Tampa fans quick to quit

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 2:36 PM ET


 TAMPA -- How can you boo your team in the first game of the Stanley Cup final?

 Even if you don't know the difference between a forecheck and a Forsberg, surely those in the Sun Belt who consider themselves hockey fans realize they were way offside Tuesday night.

 Who do they think they are, Montreal fans?

 Despite being the top seed in the Eastern Conference, it's not like the Lightning entered the playoffs massive favourites to get to this point.

 They're not the Detroit Red Wings or Colorado Avalanche, who were both widely expected to challenge for Lord Stanley's chalice.

 We're talking about the Lightning -- the same team that once signed Manon Rheaume.

 Hey, the masses had every right to boo that night, or any other evening over the course of the last decade when the Frightening, as they were known, racked up more than 200 more losses than wins.

 Being nuts about the Bolts back then would have been tough.

 Calgarians can sympathize.

 But now Tampa has a lineup that boasts a handful of flashy young superstars who make it easy to cheer for the hosts.

 Sure, they sputtered in Tuesday's 4-1 loss, when facing their first playoff opponent from the west but to boo them off the ice at the end of the second period exposes the locals as either a pathetic bandwagon bunch or too unfamiliar with what they call "ice hockey" to know any better.

 Perhaps it needs to be explained just how unusual it was that their club's powerplay operated at a 30% success rate against Philly.

 Surely, they know playing with the man-advantage isn't like stepping to the free-throw line or kicking an extra point.

 Yet, the fans grew surliest Tuesday when Calgary's penalty killers outchanced the Lightning's powerplay unit.

 As frustrating as it must have been, the Flames had only shut down Tampa's powerplay three times by the end of the second period when 21,674 at the St. Pete Times Forum showered the players with the first rain of boos.

 Trust me, they weren't calling out "Bulin."

 What's most telling about the fan ignorance is the fact this is the first time in these playoffs the Lightning has faced any sort of adversity.

 And that's how the fans react?

 No wonder ESPN studio host John Saunders said before the game that when it came to sports, "Tampa Bay has always been known as a town of losers."

 It could be a really short series if that's the sort of attitude harboured 'round these parts.

 Apparently, the same Floridians who couldn't quite figure out how to properly punch a presidential ballot now can't seem to grasp how fortunate they are to have the showcase of our great game in their city.

 The fans' Sea of Red in Calgary, which has also been through plenty of lean years, has not taken this post-season tournament for granted for even one minute.

 Take, for example, Game 6 of Calgary's opening-round series against Vancouver.

 The Flames played poorly early and fell behind 4-0 in their own building midway through the game.

 It was then the 'Dome's decibel level actually increased as the fans stood on their feet urging the Flames back into the game.

 The club clawed back to send the game into overtime.

 Although Brendan Morrison ruined the party in the seventh period, the evening represented a turning point of sorts for a club no one could have guessed would be in the final six weeks later.

 "In Canada, (the fans) are going to see a show, a movie -- they know the game," said Martin St. Louis Monday when asked about crowds on either side of the border.

 "Here, they're just going to be entertained -- they don't look at all the details Canadians do."

 If that's the case, how could anyone in attendance have been upset at the show the teams and the league put on both inside and outside the rink that night?

 Surely, Tampa fans woke up yesterday realizing the stupidity of littering their first magical evening in the final with excessive booze, er, boos.

 You've come a long way Tampa -- why quit on your team now?


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