Lightning strikes NHL in hurry with 5-goal first


TAMPA, Fla. -- Has anybody bothered to inform the Tampa Bay Lightning that they are an expansion team? Didn't think so.

In its NHL debut last night, Tampa Bay scored five times -- that's right, five times -- in the first period en route to a 7-3 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in front of a thunderous sellout crowd of 10,425 at Expo Hall.

The Lightning, a far-fetched, climate-defying dream concocted by Phil Esposito more than two years ago, officially has arrived. It did so in grand style, too, welcoming the Ice Age to Florida by pounding and humiliating the venerable Blackhawks.

It was not as if Tampa Bay pulled out some squeaker, scraping and clawing for a victory the way most expansion teams must. Consider that through 16 games last season, the expansion San Jose Sharks had the same number of points (two) the Lightning do today. And in 17 previous openers by expansion teams, no team ever has scored as frequently.

"We don't mind that the fans expect a lot out of us," Lightning coach Terry Crisp said. "The truth is we expect a lot out of ourselves."

True, it was only 60 minutes of hockey, but for one night, a first-time fan likely could not correctly guess which of these two teams played for a Stanley Cup last spring, and which was on the ice for the very first time.

Chris Kontos, a journeyman who earned his way onto the team only after a terrific training camp performance, played the role of unlikely hero, scoring four goals to spark the victory. He couldn't recall the last time he scored four goals, but he knew it wasn't at the NHL level.

"It was definitely a thrill," said Kontos, who last played in the NHL for Los Angeles in 1989-90.

"It was a thrill for me just to get back to the NHL. It has definitely been a long road back. I just want to play, have some fun, and show what I can do. It's a long season."

The Blackhawks certainly wouldn't question his talent. Coach Darryl Sutter said he could not recall ever seeing Kontos play in the NHL. He won't soon forget him, though.

Sutter also won't soon forget the heart and determination displayed by the Lightning in a stirring, history-making performance.

"Obviously, we were not ready for the emotion in this building," Sutter said. "They worked harder than we did."

Kontos was not the only Tampa Bay player to shine. Defenseman Joe Reekie, who had 12 assists in 54 games with the New York Islanders last season, had four assists, and Rob Zamuner had three, helping to set up the first two goals by Kontos.

Kontos scored power-play goals 58 seconds apart early in the game, staking Tampa Bay to a 2-0 lead at the 5:41 mark. Chicago cut the deficit to 2-1 on a fluke goal by Cam Russell from mid-ice, as a seemingly harmless clear-in bounced past goaltender Wendell Young.

Chicago's Ed Belfour faced eight shots in the first period, and had to pluck five of them from the net behind him.

Kontos scored twice -- both times on a two-man advantage. Anatoli Semenov, Ken Hodge and Marc Bergevin added single goals, Zamuner had all three of his assists, and center Rob DiMaio added two assists.

And then -- only after all of the above had happened -- was the puck dropped to start the second period. Honest.

"It just got out of control," Belfour said, still dazed and shellshocked from what he had seen.

Hockey in Florida. A romp by the Lightning. Out of control. Definitely.

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