NHL : Kontos and Lightning a Big Hit in Florida, 7-3

From Associated Press

Hockey in Florida opened to rave reviews Wednesday night as Chris Kontos scored four goals to help make the Tampa Bay Lightning a big winner in its NHL debut.

Kontos, a former King who has played part of seven NHL seasons but has never had more than eight goals in any of them, scored twice in the first period and twice more in the second to pace a 7-3 victory over the defending Campbell Conference champion Chicago Blackhawks.

"We wanted to show Florida we're for real," said Kontos, who was released by the Kings in 1990. "It's just an awesome feeling."

Anatoli Semenov, Ken Hodge and Marc Bergevin also scored for Tampa Bay, which became the sixth expansion team in NHL history to win its inaugural game and the first to score more than five goals in its debut.

Defenseman Joe Reekie had four assists and rookie Rob Zamuner three for the Lightning.

The seven goals surrendered by goalie Ed Belfour, an All-Star last season when Chicago reached the Stanley Cup finals, equaled the most the Blackhawks allowed in any game last season.

Tampa Bay goaltender Wendell Young stopped 23 of the 26 shots he faced.

"Obviously, we weren't ready for the emotion," said Chicago Coach Darryl Sutter. "The bottom line was that they're a working team. Our best players were embarrassed."

A sellout crowd of 10,420 packed the Lightning's temporary home at the Florida State Fairgrounds for the inaugural game--one skeptics doubted would ever come to pass.

Hall of Famer Phil Esposito waged an uphill battle, first to get one of two new franchises awarded by the NHL in December 1990, then to put together a financial package to pay the league's $50-million entry fee.

Esposito, the Lightning's general manager, was joined at center ice before the game by the Japanese investors who helped the dream become a reality, and by former NHL president John Ziegler, who oversaw the expansion process, and his successor, Gil Stein.

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