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It started to rain for first time on the trip as the Lightning boarded the buses to head to the arena tonight, which was symbolic of how the night would go for the team. Even though the Bolts left with a 3-2 shootout win against HC Slovan, the mood was reserved after the game. Tampa Bay will have three days to fine tune things before they start counting for real against the New York Rangers Saturday in Prague.
I stopped by a magazine shop near the hotel to pick up some local papers, and the amount of coverage being given to the Bolts in Bratislava is amazing. The only other event rivaling the attention given the team was a visit by Pamela Anderson, who was in town at the same time Leaving no stone unturned, the Slovak papers had pictures of the gum in the locker room and the players eating dinner, as well as small stories about Lightning web reporter Megan Bradley and the girl singing the National Anthem.
I decided to take in as much of the local atmosphere as possible at the game, so I ventured to a small food stand outside the arena.. After some pointing I was able to buy a sandwich with some kind of mystery meat, onions ands cabbage. I originally thought I was buying chicken but upon further review it was probably veal - at least I hope it was. The sandwich and a Pepsi Light only set me back 70 Slovak Korun (about $3.50). Also being hawked by street vendors outside were bags of pumpkin seeds, which seemed very popular.
I decided to sit in the packed stands for a portion of the game and while the atmosphere was electric, it wasn't as over the top as Berlin two days ago. While incredibly passionate, the ultimate truth is that none of these European crowds can rival the St. Pete Times Forum for sheer noise.
As for the game, Tampa Bay scored early (Evgeny Artyukhin) and peppered the Slovan goalie much of the night, but it took a Vincent Lecavalier
power-play goal late in the third period to force overtime and the eventual shootout, which the Lightning won thanks to goals by Lecavalier and Jussi Jokinen. Mike Smith was solid all night for the Bolts in the chippy affair.
We got out of Bratislava quickly, and as I write this it's 12:50 a.m. local time and we're preparing to touch down in Prague. Sounds like a day off for the boys tomorrow, though I'll be accompanying David Koci and Vladimir Mihalik on a visit to a local children's hospital.
Time for some sleep.