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The streets were clear this morning on a crisp Saturday morning in Prague as the 2008-09 regular season finally arrived. The Lightning faced off against the New York Rangers in the first game of NHL Premiere Prague at 6 p.m. local time, and although the end result was a 2-1 loss, some good things occurred.
First of all, many of us in attendance were surprised by the final shot count of 41-21 in New York’s favor. It seemed like the Lightning had the best of the first-period chances, but too often the shots missed the net. Vinny Lecavalier and Vaclav Prospal both had breakaways in the first but couldn’t score and it remained 0-0. The Rangers had the better of the play in the second and took a 1-0 lead, but Tampa Bay bounced back on a Marty St. Louis goal in the third and had some good chances to tie the game.
• The Lightning scratches were Mike Lundin, David Koci, Ryan Craig and Karri Ramo. Jason Ward (groin) and Paul Ranger (shoulder) also sat out. Koci skated warm-ups.
• Mike Smith was fantastic. Tonight can only build his confidence despite the end result.
• Thanks to the Lightning’s defense, many of New York’s shots were from outside and Smith made a lot of routine saves as well.
• The Lightning need to avoid taking so many penalties. The Rangers were stopped on the first six power-play opportunities, but on the seventh they scored the game winner.
• Ryan Malone
is the type of player any team would love to have. The guy never stops hitting and working.
• Steven Stamkos
will score plenty this season. He had at least three top-flight chances tonight, and those will start going in very soon.
I haven’t talked too much about O2 Arena in Prague, which is like night and day from Samsung Arena in Bratislava. O2 Arena is much like O2 World Arena in Berlin, though much larger. Security here is tougher than any place I’ve experience, and I can honestly say it was much, much easier for us to enter the Czech Republic than it is to enter O2 Arena. Security held the Lightning bus for 20 minutes the day we arrived before finally agreeing to let us down the ramp.
The atmosphere at the game tonight was similar to an All-Star Game. Though there are groups of fans here to support both teams, most in attendance are just here for the experience and don’t seem to care too much about the outcome. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make for the type of electric atmosphere we experienced in Berlin and Bratislava.
Since tonight’s game was a Lightning home game, the arena’s music and videos were the same as at the St. Pete Times Forum, and PA announcer Paul Porter was brought in. And while the “Kiss Cam” had the crowd in stitches, the chicken dance doesn’t translate well in Eastern Europe.
I had the chance to experience an interesting moment tonight. I’d ventured down to the area behind the benches prior to the opening faceoff, and I found myself standing shoulder to shoulder with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek as he energetically sang along with the Czech National Anthem. He then walked onto the ice for a ceremonial faceoff and nearly took a header.
Game two tomorrow followed by the loooooong flight home.