Lightning Fans rejoice at a goal by playoff dynamo Sean Bergenheim
There's never been a lot of love between the cities of Boston and Tampa. Bostonians hate the Rays because the Red Sox spend hundreds of millions of dollars to compete in the AL East, while Tampa Bay, with their pitiful fanbase and low payroll, continue to beat them at their own game.
It seems some of that animosity has carried over to hockey and the Boston Bruins organization has sensed and embraced it. Billboards in and around Boston are promoting Bruins playoff hockey and comparing the Tampa Bay Lightning fans to Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.
In other words, non-existent.
It's a low blow, considering the Bruins are an Original Six team and the Lightning are recovering from a three-ring circus of an ownership group that nearly destroyed the team and fanbase.
Movie producer Oren Koules and resort owner Len Barrie purchased the Lightning in 2008, four years after the team raised the Stanley Cup. Before their ownership, Tampa Bay finished in the top eight (and well ahead of the Bruins) in league attendance the past three seasons, topping out at No. 2 overall during the 2005-06 season, second only to the Montreal Canadiens.
Then the owners fired Stanley Cup winning coach John Tortorella and GM Jay Feaster. They traded away fan favorite All-Stars Brad Richards and Dan Boyle for what essentially amounted to a bag of hockey pucks.
They hired Barry Melrose, only to fire him 16 games into the season when they realized he couldn't coach in today's NHL.
GM Brian Lawton continued to dismantle the franchise and put them further behind the eight ball by submitting odd building availability dates that saw the Lightning shipped to Europe to open a season, ridiculously long road trips, more back-to-back nights than any other NHL team and a 12-game home stand.
In the 2007-2008 season, the Lightning finished dead last and the next off-season Tampa Bay drafted Steven Stamkos No. 1 overall.
Still, Koules and Barrie couldn't stand prosperity. They jaded the fanbase further be yanking Vincent Lecavalier back and forth on whether he would be traded away. At one point Barrie, who had no personnel authority, had agreed to trade away the Lightning captain.
That move (and the fact that Barrie came short of his end of the cash payment for the franchise) began a year-long feud where each owner was trying to form a group to buy the other out.
The Lightning's attendance plummeted to 21st in the NHL in 2008-09 and 09-10, which was still not as bad as the Bruins finished in '07-'08 (26th) and '06-'07 (25th).
Indeed, until just recently, the storied Bruins weren't drawing flies either.
The Lightning were purchased (with cash) by Jeff Vinik in May of 2010. He hired Steve Yzerman to replace Lawton as GM and he hired Guy Boucher as the head coach.
Does Tampa Bay have a bad fan base?
Still, Tampa Bay fans decided to take a wait-and-see approach after being burned by ownership before. The Lightning's turnaround was nothing short of remarkable, and toward the end of the season, the fanbase began to believe and flocked to the Forum in droves.
The Lightning finished the season 18th in attendance, averaging 17,268 a game. Incidentally, the smug Bruins averaged just 267 more butts in seats than Tampa Bay did, finishing 16th in the league.
Of course, the Bruins arena, TD Garden, only has a capacity of 17,585 for hockey, while the Lightning's arena, St. Pete Times Forum, is a cavernous 19,758 seats (another nearly 1,000 more temporary seats are added for playoff games). With the tiny arena, the Bruins can boast sellouts while the Lightning are only at 87.4 percent capacity for the season.
The bottom line is the historic original six Bruins are casting stones at the Lightning fan base from their own glass house.