Lightning’s Game 1 watch party draws 7,200, with a few Avalanche fans sprinkled in

TAMPA — The Pesquera sisters have been at “pretty much” every Watch party inside or outside of Amalie Arena since Lightning repeated as Stanley Cup champions last season. However, Emily and Kimberly, both 19, only release their tinfoil replica of Lord Stanley on very specific occasions of good luck.

“At home it stays in the garage,” said her mother Flo. “We only take it out in the final. It can’t come out until the finale because it’s a curse. Now we’re aiming for the trophy, so he’s allowed out.”

Built at home during the 2020 Pandemic title run, it attended both boat parades and – as is now the norm with the actual trophy – has been drunk countless times. With so many people looking to touch the trophy, precautions were needed in the pandemic era.

“We even had to sanitize the cup, Lysol the cup,” Emily said.

The Pesqueras brought their Stanley Cup replica to the Amalie Arena and were two of 7,200 fans who registered for Wednesday’s watch party, continuing a street game tradition that has defined the Lightning’s last two playoff heats.

Before moving to Riverview, the Pesqueras were Devils fans from Middlesex County, New Jersey, so the Bolts’ win over the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals brought added satisfaction. In large part due to the organization’s strong community presence, they’re now “exclusive Lightning fans.”

But for one of the few Avalanche fans scattered throughout Amalie Arena, this game – and this series – has a deeper meaning. Chris Conley, 52, moved to Port Richey from Colorado nine months ago — his company relocated him to Florida — and he’s been an Avalanche fan for more than two decades.

The Avalanche was introduced to him in 1997 by his girlfriend Stacey. She had an Avalanche sticker on her car’s visor and was someone who yelled at her TV during games, Conley said. When they worked together in Atlanta, they flew to Avalanche games at least six times each season.

Stacey was diagnosed with breast cancer and died five years ago on Conley’s birthday and Conley said he knew he couldn’t support any other team after that. He only saw a different Avalanche jersey while riding his motorcycle down Channelside Drive before the game and he’s trying to secure tickets for Game 4. If the Avalanche won their first Stanley Cup since 2001, that would be something Stacey would “freak out about. ”

“She would like to be here,” Conley said.

A few minutes after 7:00 p.m., fans began pouring into the arena and cheers echoed when Brayden Point touched the puck for the first time in a rush after two minutes – the center missing the final two series of the blitz with a lower body injury . And for the first part of the frame, Conley’s Avalanche led behind two quick goals and another later in the first period.

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Nick Paul scored the Lightning’s first goal midway through the first half, the kind of scrappy record that quickly endeared the after-hours acquisition to Lightning fans like 18-year-old Ben Jensen.

“I miss a few players,” said Jensen, noting the departure of Yanni Gourde and his boat parade antics (like climbing on gear during a storm to pump up the crowd). “But (Brandon) Hagel and Paul, they were absolute beasts. Corey Perry was a beast too.”

Still, it was a special run for Avalanche fans like Conley. He’s watched the losses that ended the promising seasons of recent years, then seen the team’s reaction this year with 56 wins, 119 points and a first-place finish in the Western Conference. But their final test to win their first Stanley Cup in two decades is against a “fantastic team”.

“What better chance to prove you belong in the elite than against the two-time defending champion,” Conley said.

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