Saturday, May 27

Lightning fans flood Tampa’s Armature Works plaza for Game 7 watch party

TAMPA — For nearly two weeks, Taylor Wendell has been heckled by Lighting fans as she sported her No. 23 Maple Leafs Auston Matthews jersey in and around Tampa Bay.

Wendell, 24, of Tampa has worn the blue jersey to Lightning watch parties at Sparkman Wharf and Armature Works for the first-round playoff series, at Amalie Arena for the three home games and even at St. Joseph’s Hospital as she has nursed patients back to health.

Her outfit didn’t change Saturday night, as she donned the sweater (along with a Maple Leafs-themed helmet with a blue siren light on top) at Armature Works for the Game 7 watch party. Even ThunderBug took no mercy as he playfully used a leaf blower on her during the first period.

“Hopefully we can pull out a win here so I can turn on my light and show everybody that the Maple Leafs mean business,” said Wendell, who came with her wife, Kelsey.

Wendell didn’t get the result she hoped for as the Lightning pulled out a 2-1 win in Toronto, but it was the atmosphere she wanted, even if she did have to share it with thousands of Lightning fans.

Kevin Belickis, meanwhile, wanted his 4-year-old son, Micah, to have the best Game 7 experience.

Belickis, 32, of Brandon moved to the area in 2014 and remembers taking in his first Game 7, against Detroit in 2015. It was an experience he hasn’t forgotten, and he wanted the same for his son.

Belickis is a member of Sticks of Fire, a Lightning fan group in the area. He borrowed a sign from another member to take to the watch party. Proudly he waved a signed that said “Social Distancing Since 1967″ throughout the night, poking fun at the Maple Leafs not having won the Stanley Cup in 55 years.

“I wanted to come to the (watch party) where (Lightning in-game host Greg) Wolf was going to be at and have a good time” Belickis said. “It’s one thing to jump up and down and enjoy the game at home, but when you get to be around other fans and share that emotion and get so hyped up, it’s awesome.”

Lifelong Lightning fan Michael Paleveda watched anxiously as the final seconds ticked down in the game.

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For Paleveda, 29, of Tampa it was less about the Lightning advancing to the second round and more about defeating the Maple Leafs, who haven’t won a playoff series since 2004.

“We had a duty to the hockey world to make sure Toronto loses in a Game 7, and we did that,” said Paleveda. “Your heartbeat’s through the roof, anxiety levels equally as high, but when that clock hits triple zeros, there’s so much relief. You could hear a collective breath relief through the entire Tampa Bay area.”

Contact Mari Faiello at Follow @faiello_mari.

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