Lord Of The Rinks!
The Stanley Cup is going to get quite a suntan this summer
courtesy of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Lightning completed a stunningly successful season Monday
night, winning the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals,
2-1, over the equally game and inspired Calgary Flames
Brad Richards, with 12 goals and 14 assists in 23 games, was
named the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most
valuable player in the 2004 playoffs
Lightning, the top seed in the Eastern Conference this spring,
rallied back against the sixth-seeded Flames, who had taken a
3-2 series lead with a victory in Game 5. But Tampa took Game
6 in Calgary to force the seventh game where anything could
night, Ruslan Fedotenko happened early and Nikoilai Khabibulin
happened late for the victors.
scored a power-play goal in the first period and an
even-strength goal in the second to give the Bolts a two-goal
Khabibulin lived up to his nickname of "The 'Bulin
Wall" in the third period, stepping to the fore as the
Flames put on relentless, sustained pressure. Calgary's lone
goal by Craig Conroy at 9:21 of the third was a power-play
tally that got past a screened Khabibulin.
didn't really try to put any pressure on myself going into the
playoffs," said Khabibulin, who had been a lightning rod
for criticism in some quarters. "I just tried to, you
know, tried to do the best I can every game and see where it
you can't go much further than the seventh game of the Finals
and leave the ice with the Stanley Cup.
you go back three years ago, I don't know too many, if
anybody, thought that we could win the Stanley Cup,"
Khabibulin said. "But you know, we were taking step by
step. We were playing better. I think the most important thing
is the core of the players stayed the same. Guys like Brad
Richards and Vinny (Lecavalier) and Martin (St. Louis), a lot
of the guys matured and obviously became very good players. I
think that helped."
goaltending was critical in the third period. He faced only
seven shots in the first two periods, but the Flames gave it
everything they had in the third, putting 10 shots and
unrelenting pressure on the Lightning.
goal beat Khabibulin high to the glove side with Martin
Gelinas setting the screen in front while battling with Dave
Andreychuk. The goal sent a surge of energy through the Flames
who put on incredible pressure after the goal, with defenseman
Jordan Leopold nearly tying the game with 4:46 left when he
pinched in and very nearly got the puck over Khabibulin's
outstretched arm and a diving Pavel Kubina. Steve Montador
nearly scored from the circle to Khabibulin's left seconds
later, but the goalie was able to knock the puck away amidst
the Flames' suffocating pressure and preserve the victory.
the loss, the Flames played with heart and passion in what
became a bitter disappointment to a wonderful season in which
Calgary returned to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a
seven-season drought and as the sixth seed in the Western
Conference eliminated three division winners -- Vancouver,
Detroit and San Jose. But the Southeast Division champion
Lightning were one division champ too many.
the end, we ran out of gas," Flames coach Darryl Sutter
said. "Winning Game 5 actually hurt us more than it
helped us because the injuries (to defenseman Robyn Regehr and
forward Shean Donovan) were sustained in it.
longer the series went, the tougher it was going to be. I
think we tried to summon all we could in terms of energy. In
the end, they had more legs than we did.
we got beat by a great hockey team," Sutter said.
"We played as well as we could."
showing plenty of heart in the process.
what it was at the end," Sutter said. "That's what
they were playing on and that's all they had left."
Tampa victory was especially sweet for Andreychuk, who has
toiled for 22 NHL seasons and was in appearing in his 1,759th
career game -- 162 playoff games -- without winning the
Stanley Cup. Until Monday night, when he realized his dream of
winning the Cup when he took hold of the cherished trophy from
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman at center ice of the frenzied
St. Pete Times Forum.
dream about this day for a long time, obviously,"
Andreychuk said. "(It's) taken me a while to get to this
point and I don't believe you can put into words the things
that are going through your mind."
triumph completed a rags-to-riches story for the Lightning,
who have evolved from a long-struggling expansion team to
champs under GM Jay Feaster and coach John Tortorella.
being eliminated in the second round last season, the deepest
the franchise had ever gone in the playoffs, the two men got
together and formed a plan for this season that culminated in
a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Finals.
don't think we really ever expected that," Tortorella
admitted. "Again, what we talked about, we just wanted to
make our players understand we had a pretty good year. I don't
think we answered well in the second round of the playoffs
against (New) Jersey. And we wanted our team just to continue
to get better.
think you have got to be real careful as an organization
trying to grow is not to have it one and out. We just wanted
to continue to grow. That's when we gave them that book, we
are a good team, but we want to be a great team. It more or
less sent a message that way.
don't know what is going to happen, so I still can't figure it
out, how quickly it happened for us. It's the group of men in
the room. We just try to guide them."
judging by the results, the Lightning sure were pointed in the
first 40 minutes Monday night were key in the Lightning
achieving their dream. The Lightning had the edge in play,
shots, and most importantly goals in the first period, taking
a 1-0 lead thanks to the gutsy play of Fedotenko.
a nasty cut over his right eye, Fedotenko put the Bolts on the
board at 13:31, scoring his 11th goal of the playoffs with
Tampa Bay on the power play.
lot of credit for the goal to winger Fredrik Modin, who worked
the right side of the ice hard to get the puck and dish it
back to Richards at the right point.
put a wrist shot on goal through a screen that Flames goalie
Miikka Kiprusoff kicked out. But Regehr was unable to contain
the puck and/or Fedotenko, who fired the rebound into the net
for the first goal of the game.
make it 2-0 at 14:38 of the second period off a tremendous
effort by Vincent Lecavalier, who put his considerable skills
to work at the right time.
grabbed the puck in the left wing corner and then ragged the
puck while dipsey-doodling in a very small space. He avoided
Steve Montador and then a collision with two more players
before dishing to Fedotenko in the high slot just before being
dropped to the ice by two Flames.
pass was breathtaking, but Fedotenko kept it from becoming a
forgotten play when he ripped the puck high to Kiprusoff's
glove side for his second of the game and 12th of the
playoffs. But more importantly for the packed house at the St.
Pete Times Forum and the thousands watching outside, the goal
gave Tampa a 2-0 lead.
after two periods was a huge omen of success for the
Lightning, who entered the game 14-1 when leading after 40
minutes. In contrast, trailing after two has been a precursor
of disaster for the Flames, who were 0-7 when trailing after
two going into the game.
thanks to the heroics Khabibulin supplied in the third period,
the Lightning were able to make an unlikely dream at the start
of the 2003-04 season became a reality.
better get his sunblock.
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