Friday, January 22, 2010

Toronto Maple Leafs 2 at Tampa Bay Lightning 3 (OT) - January 21, 2010

The Tampa Bay Lightning were aptly named today as we drove from southern Georgia through a raging thunderstorm to reach Tampa. Sunshine State my ass. We arrived downtown about 2 hours before game time and parked for $10, grabbed a good seat from the box office, and ate at Hot Tuna, which seems to be a new restaurant across from the rink. After that, it was time to root for the Leafs for the 3rd time in 4 nights.

The Arena

The St. Pete Times Forum is located in downtown Tampa, as part of the Channelside district. It was completed in 1996 and has since been home to the Lightning as well as the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League when it was operating.

The Lightning won the Stanley Cup back in 2004 and I'm wondering if they are still dining out on that. Tickets here are very expensive. For a seat in the lower bowl along the side, you can expect to pay $113 for a premium game. Unfortunately, I couldn't find prices for the other types of games - even the pocket schedules didn't have the relevant information. One good promotion that the Lightning have is the Big Night Out package, where you can get 2 tickets, 2 beers or sodas, 2 hot dogs, and a parking pass for a discounted price. Tickets in the upper deck are $50 each for this deal, which seems a good deal. The only thing is that you need to call in advance, so this promotion didn't work well for us arriving just a couple of hours before the game.

The club suites comprise the second level of the rink and push the 3rd level seats higher up. I prefer when these seats are closer to the ice - back in the old Pacific Coliseum, the first row of the upper deck was almost directly above the net. As you can see in the picture below, it's pretty far from the 3rd deck to the ice surface.

There are plenty of food options here. The team even provides a food finder which details which food concession is behind which section. I've given up on arena food on this trip but there were some really intriguing selections, including an Outback with its trademark Bloomin' Onion.

There's also a designated driver program which provides a free pop if you don't drink. However, it seemed like only one person from each party could sign up as I was asked "Who are you driving?". I threw Sharpy under the bus here, pointing to him, which precluded his getting a free pop. Sorry Sharpy! The funniest thing about the DD program is that they give you a plastic Bud Light cup - you have to go to the Mojito Bar at section 128 to get your soda.

Because the arena name is owned by the local newspaper, the concourse is decorated with front pages with all the big news in Tampa-St. Pete history - not just sports, but local events. This is a real cool touch and something I haven't seen in other venues.

Overall, I enjoyed this arena but want to spend more time here. It's a good place to watch a game and provides fans with plenty of dining and entertainment options. A good downtown location really helps too. I think I'll try to find a cheaper seat next time though.

The Game

The first period saw 8 total shots, just 2 by Toronto. Ugh. Let's move on. In the second, Ian White gave the Leafs the lead on a nice one-timer off a perfect pass from Phil Kessel. The power-play goal marked the 3rd time in the 3 games that the Leafs scored first. But as usual they blew the lead when Steven Stamkos scored later in the period. The Leafs were shorthanded and could not clear the zone despite numerous chances. Jason Blake then lost his stick, and although the penalty had ended, Stamkos slapped a one-timer, beating Jonas Gustavsson on the short side.

Shot from the point

In the third, Matt Stajan scored another power play goal and the Leafs had regained the one-goal lead. But there were still 10 minutes left. Naturally, the question now was how would the Leafs blow the game? Answer: Stupid penalties. First, Alex Ponikarovsky was sent to the box for boarding after knocking Martin St. Louis into the boards from behind. Correct call, and it led to a 4-on-3 situation for the Lightning. So it was just a matter of time before the puck found the back of the net. Vinnie Lecavalier took a shot at the net that Gustavsson stopped, giving up a juicy rebound that Ryan Malone, left untouched, calmly put into the net. 2-2. Ponikarovsky then lipped off the referee and was promptly sent back to the box for 2 more minutes. Amazingly, the Leafs killed this one off and regulation time ended 2-2.

Face-off in the Leafs zone

I was actually only hoping for 3 points out of 8 on this trip, so my goal was achieved. Still, it would be nice to get a win here and the overtime period had chances for both sides. With just under a minute left, the Leafs were changing as the puck went by the bench. I thought "Oh oh, too many men" but no call was made. The Leafs then had a 2-on-1 when the linesman whistled the play. Turns out I was right - another 4-on-3 power play for the Bolts. And with 10 seconds left, St. Louis blasted a one-timer above Gustavsson to win the game for Tampa Bay. Aarrgh.

Both Lecavalier and Stamkos had 3 points on the night and along with St. Louis are Tampa's three threats. But the supporting cast isn't as strong which is why the Lightning are 13th in the conference, just one spot above Toronto.

Gustavsson ponders his future

Overall, this was not a good game today, with 15 minors and 4 PP goals. The only even-strength goal came just seconds after a Toronto penalty ended, so there was really no good 5-on-5 goal. The hockey was sloppy and there were few good chances. There was a great fight at the beginning, but the Leafs Jay Rosehill lost that as well, getting knocked down by Matt Walker.

Toronto has blown leads in all 3 games, but has managed 3 out of 6 points, which is OK for a road trip. The Florida game will determine the overall success of this southern swing.

One final stat: Toronto have a 17-25-10 record. This means they have won less than a third of their games but have taken points in over half. Strange. Either way, they have a long way to go before they can think of the playoffs.

Other Thoughts

I didn't have much time to tour Tampa, so I won't have any post on the city. I've yet to spend much time here, so I'll have to come back to watch the Bucs in the near future and maybe spend a few days doing the tourist thing.

There are a lot of Canadians down here for the winter. The parking lot was filled with Ontario license plates, and Leaf fans were out in numbers. The "Go Leafs Go" chant echoed around the arena at times. Didn't matter much though.

I liked the bars right across the street from the rink. Definitely worth getting there early, parking on the street (there is street parking nearby) and enjoying a couple of soda pops befor the game. The Hot Tuna Bar and Cafe has just re-opened after renovations and was packed, mostly with Canadians. I think I'd like to spend a Lightning home stand here, watching 4 games and really getting to know the city. Looking forward to the 2010-11 schedule being released.

Next Up

I'm now in Fort Myers having watched the Everblades last night. Making the trek across Alligator Alley today to catch the Leafs on their final game of the road swing against the Panthers tonight. Tomorrow is a rest day for the NFL playoffs, so check back from updates from both these games then.



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