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Monday, Apr 22, 2019
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Tampa Bay region steels itself for lengthy Lightning playoff run

TAMPA - It's April, and that means three things: Our two weeks of spring have given way to early summer. It's time to file those tax returns. And the Tampa Bay Lightning is in the playoffs.

The long regular season treated us to 5 months of Bolts domination and Tampa Bay fans hope it's just the beginning of a two-month climb to the Stanley Cup Finals.

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Kent Glisson, 42, will be there tonight and hopes to attend every home playoff game, leading the fan group he helped start five years ago, Sticks of Fire.

"For us, we're probably a little bit different than the average fan," Glisson said. "We're planning things like marching to the arena. We try to do those for as many home games as possible."

The Lightning has played well into May in three out of the past four seasons. If Tampa Bay enjoys a similar run this postseason, that will require a lot of investment, in time and money, from fans and the community.

Tampa officials have to plan for more street closures, more traffic and more fans downtown. Local bars have to staff up to ensure patrons enjoy the near-death experience known as playoff hockey.

Serious fans know they're in for weeks of appointment television.

Ilya Berler, 40, a social worker from Seminole, is one such fan. He joked in a Facebook post that this year, he's told some of his friends and family that he re-enlisted in the Army - and that he'll spend the next two months or so in basic training.

"That way they won't bother with phone calls or ask to hang out - allowing me the freedom to eat, sleep and breathe hockey," Berler wrote.

That's Berler's way of saying he doesn't plan to miss a second of the action on TV.

Glisson enters the postseason with several home advantages. He works a dayshift as an IT manager, so he won't have to miss work to attend night playoff games. As a season-ticket holder, he's already paid for his playoff tickets. His 16-year-old daughter can babysit her 7-year-old sister while he and wife Miah, 43, go to the games.

But what if the kids want to go?

"They'll both be going Friday," Glisson said of Game 2.

Every family has to figure out their own logistics. So does every city. Tampa Police spokesman Steve Hegarty said the department is ready.

"This is not our first rodeo," Hegarty said.

The agency plans to send about 15 percent more officers to downtown for the Lightning's first-round games against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Hegarty said. That number will probably increase the further into the playoffs the team gets.

In addition to the game tonight, there's a concert in Curtis Hixon Park and a show at the Straz. Nights like this, with simultaneous downtown events, pose a special challenge, Hegarty said.

But just last year, the city hosted the NHL All-Star weekend and Gasparilla at the same time. Tampa Police is up for weeks of games, concerts and downtown watch parties.

Popular restaurants like Sparkman Wharf and Harpoon Harry's opened in the last year, and they'll likely contribute to pregame traffic.

Another place Lightning fans are likely to flock is Hattricks Tavern on Franklin Street. David Mangione, a manager and co-owner of the bar, was there for the Lightning's 2004 Stanley Cup run. He said he expects patrons to come out hours early to get a good spot for games.

"The team itself all year has been so fun to watch," Mangione said. "If you can get out of work early, why wouldn't you want to do that? Even if you're not going to the game, just to be a part of the electricity."

Hattricks will staff up on game nights, Mangione said, adding extra bartenders, servers and managers. Expect the place to be packed.

Logistics are only part of the story. Hockey fans also have to prepare themselves emotionally and physically for game after heart-wrenching late-night game.

Tampa attorney Jon Hackworth tweeted that his preparation ritual is simple:

"Naps."

Times staff writer Jamal Thalji contributed to this report. Contact Kirby Wilson at [email protected] or (727) 893-8793. Follow @kirbywtweets.

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