A few weeks ago, I did a top ten countdown of the greatest Tampa Bay Lightning goals of the Steve Yzerman era. In that, I mentioned that none of those goals could measure up to some of the greatest ever scored in franchise history. Martin St. Louis’ game six Stanley Cup Final double over time game winner. Ruslan Fedotenko’s two goals in game seven of that same Stanley Cup Final to seal the championship win. And then there were the goals that I’m featuring today, Chris Kontos’ four goals in the inaugural game.
This is a story that is well known to Lightning fans. Phil Esposito lobbied to get an NHL franchise. He lobbied hard to get that franchise in Tampa Bay. He had the vision that hockey could succeed in the Sunshine State. While it took a while, this team has firmly planted themselves into the fabric of the region. Esposito has a well deserved bronze statue at the entrance to Amalie Arena for all of the work he did to bring us this franchise.
That first season, the Lightning played at the fairgrounds. It was a small building and not really an ideal place for NHL hockey to be played. The team would move to the Thunder Dome, now known as Tropicana Field the home of the Tampa Bay Rays. But for that first season, they played in a tiny barn.
There is a now infamous story of Esposito frantically running around the arena after Kontos’ third goal. The ushers had been instructed to throw anyone out that threw any objects on the ice. Not knowing the custom of a hat trick, they started doing just that when the hats began to fly. It wouldn’t take long though for the Tampa Bay area to start to catch on to the customs, traditions, and superstitions of hockey.
Turning now to Kontos’ hat trick, we get a bonus goal to look at because he set a franchise record in that first game by scoring four goals — a record that has only been matched once by Martin St. Louis. Check out the highlights in the video below.
The first goal was also the first goal of the game. After Igor Kravchuk and Chris Chelios were sent to the box for Hooking and Roughing respectively, the Lightning had a five-on-three power play. After a dump-in from the red line, Adam Creighton checked a man into the end boards and knocked the puck loose for Rob Zamuner. Zamuner put the puck to the top of the left wing circle where Kontos was cruising in and loaded up with a slap shot that beat Ed Belfour. Zamuner and Creighton received the assists on the goal.
The second goal came a minute later as the power play continued as a 5-on-4 after Kontos’ first goal. After Rob Ramage hit the post on a shot from the point, Kontos retrieved the puck and go it to Creighton. Creighton held the puck and Kontos crossed in front of him to head to the net. Creighton passed to Zamuner at the top of the left wing circle. He passed the puck down to John Tucker at the side of the net. After holding the puck for a moment, he zipped the puck through the crease to Kontos sitting on the other side of the puck for the tap in. Tucker and Zamuner got the assists, making Kontos and Zamuner the first Lightning players with a multi-point game.
The rest of the first period was a wild one with the Lightning obviously feeling the energy in the building. Cam Russell of the Blackhawks scored a goal after Kontos’ second to put the game at 2-1. Anatoli Semenov and Ken Hodge then scored a pair of goals in the next 50 seconds to make it a 4-1 game. Now Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin added a goal near the end of the first period to make the score 5-1.
The second period settled down a bit and it wasn’t until 11:33 into the period that the next goal was scored. Belfour played a dumped in puck into the corner. After a board battle, Joe Reekie gathered the puck from a bad clearing attempt at the left point. He took a shot on net that was blocked in front by a defenseman. With a lucky bounce, the puck went right to Kontos in the slot and he made the shot to beat Belfour for the third goal. Reekie received the only assist on the goal. For Reekie, it was his third assist of the night and it made him and Kontos the second and third players in Lightning history to record three points as Zamuner had already picked up his third point assisting on Hodge’s first period goal.
The Lightning were once again on the power play at the end of the second period with the score now 6-2 after a Brian Noonan goal for the Blackhawks. The teams were playing four-on-four hockey after Rob Ramage was called for Slashing which canceled out a Lightning power play from Steve Larmer being called for Holding the Stick. Rod Buskas put the Lightning back on the power play with 47 seconds on the clock by being called for Interference, Unsportsmanlike Conduct, and a ten-minute Misconduct.
After entering the zone on the power play, Reekie and Doug Crossman passed the puck back and forth between the points. Kontos had set up to Belfour’s right and was waiting for the puck. Reekie passed the puck down to him and Kontos redirected the puck at the net and into the back. Reekie and Crossman received assists on the goal to put the Lightning up 7-2. With Reekie picking up his fourth assist of the night, he also set a Lightning franchise record with four assists to go with Kontos’ four goal record as well as both setting the mark at four points in a game.
Marc Bureau tied Reekie’s assist record later in the season on 2/1/1993 against the San Jose Sharks. The record was tied four more times after that and stood until Mark Recchi broke the record with five assists against the Calgary Flames during the 2008-09 season. Martin St. Louis tied Recchi’s five assists during the 2010-11 season.
Reekie and Kontos’ points in a game record was broken exactly one month later when Doug Crossman had three goals and three assists for six points on 11/7/1992. Crossman’s six point game remains the Lightning franchise record. The most recent challenge to that record came on 3/3/2018 when Steven Stamkos had two goals and three assists for five points. There have been 10 total games in franchise history of a player scoring at least five points.