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The final hour...

As minutes tick away and fans flock to the St. Petersburg Times Forum (or Times Palace, as I like to call it) I can't help but realize this is the biggest game ever played in Tampa Bay. One can point out the Bucs and the 2002 Super Bowl appearance, but the NFC Championship and Super Bowl were played in Philadelphia and San Diego respectively. One could mention that Tampa Bay has hosted 4 Super Bowls, and I can only say those were other teams, representing other cities.

This game is the biggest in the the history of the Lightning, that is for sure. This playoff series has been a lot more eventful than the entire history of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and most playoff appearances by the Bucs....

For the Lightning, a win would push the team into a final confrontation -- the grand finale of the Pass the Friggin' Torch Tour -- for the right to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup. It will deliver a 40 year old dreamer to his dreams, and give a taste of legendary status to the rest of the players on the roster: The cocky 24 year old from Ile Bizzard, the consistent and resilient young man from Prince Edward Island, the 5-nothing, 100-nothing pound forward who has taken nay-sayers opinions and shoved them up their collective asses. There's the balls-to-the-wall Swede, the "potential realized" Czech, etc, etc.... All rounded out by the man known to his enemies and allies alike as the Bulin Wall...

Potentially, sixty minutes of hockey is all that is left for one of these teams. A bitter resentment of how close they came will be all that lingers for the next three months (or more pending work stoppage) as they prepare themselves both mentally and physically to try, try again...

And the winner? The winner gets the chance at glory -- to realize boyhood dreams or to re-live them that they once experienced in a different town, among different people. Nothing is certain as any sports fan can tell you.

Throw out your clichés, for there truly is no tomorrow for the loser... The quest for Lord Stanley's Cup ends for all but one in the Eastern Conference tonight...

And my final question to you is this: Are you ready for some hockey?