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'It's like heaven': Fans grow the 'distant thunder' at Amalie Arena during playoff watch party

Watch parties inside the arena weren't allowed last season due to COVID-19 restrictions.

TAMPA, Fla — The Tampa Bay Lightning are in another playoff series -- and some fans got to cheer them on at home.

Attendance for the first playoff watch party actually increased from the 3,800 fans allowed in the arena during the regular season to 7,000 people for playoff games

A little over 1,500 fans cheered on the team Tuesday inside Amalie Arena.

"Oh my God! I can't tell you, I am such a hockey fan. It's just heaven being here. I just love it," Barbara Danielewicz said.

You could feel the energy in the air with the once "distant thunder" back in the stands for Game 2 of the playoffs.

"It was very emotional. We were in here on the glass January right before COVID hit and I can't even explain the feeling to be in here," Michelle Hargett said.

She's a health care worker who was fighting to save lives during the pandemic. Watch parties for the Lightning were mainly at home in 2020. Fans who could come out sat in Thunder Alley to celebrate the team from miles away. 

"Everybody became the 'distant thunder,' which was amazing! The city's support and the fan support is incredible, but we are very very happy and excited to have fans back together," Lightning marketing director Brittany Austin said. "I think everybody from afar enjoyed the excitement of playoffs and winning was so amazing. 

"I think they're ready to get back and do it together."

Masked and in pods of two to six people, fans said they didn't mind the measures being taken to keep everyone safe.

"Last year we couldn't do too much because of the COVID, so this year it's much better. They're gonna go all the way! I have faith that they will make it," Danielewicz said. 

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