JOHNSTOWN, Pa. -- The fans in Johnstown, Pa., waited almost five months for the preseason game Tuesday at Cambria County War Memorial Arena between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning since the city won the inaugural title of Kraft Hockeyville USA in May.
They didn't have to wait long to have something to cheer about with the hometown Penguins scoring on the first shift in their 4-2 win.
Sergei Plotnikov 's backhand shot beat Lightning goalie Kristers Gudlevskis 14 seconds into the first period to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead. Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist , Plotnikov's linemates, assisted on the goal, which thrilled the crowd crammed into the small arena.
"It's a cool game. We enjoyed our whole game here," Malkin said. "They have great fans here who love the Penguins. It's very special. So proud. I know it's a small arena, but I'm so proud of the game. There were great fans who support the game."
Pittsburgh responded quickly each time Tampa Bay scored, and Penguins coach Mike Johnston said a lot of that had to do with the fans.
"You could just feel it in the rink as soon as you came into the rink," Johnston said. "It's a great arena. The excitement in the building, the excitement in the town, I just think it's special. A lot of players get exhibition games year after year that just blend into each other, but tonight a lot of the players were talking about Johnstown, so it was a good experience for them."
War Memorial Arena was made famous by the 1977 movie "Slap Shot," which filmed its hockey scenes there. It was built for the Johnstown Jets, who played there from 1950 through 1977, and later served as home of the Johnstown Chiefs of the ECHL (1987-2010). The North American Hockey League's Johnstown Tomahawks currently play there.
The crowd was mostly pro-Penguins; Johnstown is 90 miles from Pittsburgh and most of the residents are Penguins fans. Members from each team said beforehand they expected it to feel like a playoff atmosphere, and it did all night in the sold-out arena with 4,000 fans waving rally towels and cheering "Let's go Pens!" most of the game.
Brian Boyle scored in the first period to tie it 1-1, but Penguins defenseman Ian Cole 's goal less than two minutes later restored Pittsburgh's lead.
"It was great. It was awesome," Cole said. "We were actually talking before the game about how clear it is, how easy it is to hear individual people in the stands. At an actual NHL rink, you can't really hear individual people unless they're right over the bench or something."
As the winner of Kraft Hockeyville USA, War Memorial Arena received $150,000 in upgrades to its scoreboard, boards and lights.
Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin scored to tie the game 2-2 in the second period before Malkin and defenseman Adam Clendening gave the Penguins a 4-2 advantage.
Despite the loss, the Lightning appreciated the event.
"Being part of Hockeyville was a great experience," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "The arena was packed and the support was outstanding. The fans definitely showed why Johnstown was named Hockeyville USA. They certainly deserve it."
After the game, players from each team remained on the ice and gave autographed jerseys to 40 fans.
"I think the whole experience was pretty good," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said." Fans were great. I think everyone who helped orchestrate this and put this together did a good job. It was pretty smooth from our standpoint.
"I guess the fans came here and saw what they wanted to see and saw Pittsburgh win. Overall, it was a great experience, and I think it's something the guys will remember for a while."
Forwards Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel , and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury were among the Penguins who didn't play. Pittsburgh will play its third game in three nights Wednesday and used many players Tuesday who are fighting to make the team.
Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman sustained an undisclosed injury in the second period. Cooper said Hedman would be re-evaluated Wednesday after he didn't play in the third period.