Tampa Bay vs. Calgary Lightning (46-22-8-6, 106 pts); Flames (42-30-7-3; 94 pts) Season Series: 1-0-0 Tampa Bay
This is the third year that I've been writing playoff previews for Calgarypuck.com and when I started these two seasons ago, breaking down the Stanley Cup Finals match-up between the Detroit Red Wings and Carolina Hurricanes, I couldn't have imagined that only two years later I would be doing the same for the Calgary Flames. It's been an incredible journey through the previous three rounds of the playoffs and the Flames have a chance to pull off the unthinkable and bring home a Stanley Cup.
Much like the previous round, the Flames boast the top all-around forward on either team. Jarome Iginla has been dominant offensively throughout the playoffs and has also played well on the other side of the puck with a team-leading +10 rating. While Martin St. Louis (5g, 13a) and Brad Richards (8g, 9a) have been Tampa Bay's main offensive threats, Fredrik Modin leads the team with a +10 rating and has been strong offensively with seven goals and nine assists for 16 points.
Where the Lightning edge comes in is simply a greater number of players who can put the puck in the net more consistently. After St. Louis, Richards and Modin, Lecavalier has nine goals and 13 points and Ruslan Fedotenko has nine goals and ten points. Dave Andreychuk also rates up there with 10 points (nine assists). Cory Stillman is also dangerous having ranked second on the Lightning this season with 25 goals and 80 points although he has struggled in the playoffs with only six thus far.
EDGE: TAMPA BAY
If Toni Lydman can return this series, the Flames defence will blow Tampa's away. As it stands, Calgary's rearguards are still better than the Lightning's by a fair margin.
Offensively, only Dan Boyle has scored a goal this postseason. Calgary's blueliners also have an edge in speed over Tampa Bay's. Darryl Sydor is likely their fastest skater but he has fought the puck at times these playoffs with no goals and a -1 rating. The Lightning like to use all six of their defencemen but if Iginla has his way they may be forced to go with some match-ups.
The Flames don't get a lot of offence from their defence either but they have contributed at key times, with examples being Regehr's goal in game one of the second round in Detroit and Montador's overtime winner against the Sharks. They do have more speed to keep up with Tampa Bay's forwards.
Both Nikolai Khabibulin and Miikka Kiprusoff have played exceptionally well in these playoffs. Both have four shutouts and solid all-around numbers. However, while Khabibulin was really only tested last round, Kiprusoff has been tested throughout the playoffs and even during the regular season down the stretch while the Flames were in a playoff race.
Both netminders will make their share of spectacular saves this round but Kiprusoff will likely be tested more often and called upon to bail his team out at times—like he has done all season long.
If the Flames can pick up on Khabibulin's glaring weakness—the five-hole—they will create some long nights for the Tampa netminder.
SLIGHT EDGE: CALGARY
During the regular season, Tampa Bay's power play wasn't nearly as dominant as it's been in the playoffs with a 16.2% rating (16th in the league). Calgary's was only slightly worse at 15.1% (21st in the league).
Tampa Bay and Calgary had almost identical penalty killing during the regular season at 84.9% (10th) and 84.7% (13th) respectively.
However, during the playoffs the Lightning special teams have caught fire. Their 21.2% success rating ranks first among all teams, including six goals in their last eight power play attempts. Their penalty killing ranks fifth at 90.4%. Although it should be noted that both Detroit and San Jose ranked higher than the Lightning in this category.
The Flames sit near the bottom in playoff penalty killing at 12th (83.9%) but largely held the Sharks at bay last round and limited most of Detroit's damage to a pair of five-on-three goals near the end of a game two that was already out of reach.
EDGE: TAMPA BAY
Darryl Sutter has been a calming influence in the Flames dressing room all season long in addition to carefully crafting a unique gameplan to beat each of the three Western Conference Division Champions. Tortorella did show a great ability to calm his team before the seventh game against the Flyers and has done a great job all season long with the Lightning's youth and veterans.
SLIGHT EDGE: CALGARY
One thing the Flames had going for them in the first three rounds was they had nothing to lose. Well, they have something to lose now and looking across the room at the likes of Dave Lowry they know that this may be their only opportunity to win it all. Tampa Bay is in a similar situation with Dave Andreychuk but the intangible edge goes to Calgary simply because the entire city is behind them.
The potential return of Matthew Lombardi and Toni Lydman would be huge for Calgary as they would be inserting two of their faster players and likely taking out two of their slower players in Commodore and Lowry or Oliwa. This is a series that will be all about speed and physical play. If the Flames dictate the tempo and wear down the Tampa defence, they have an excellent chance at winning their second Stanley Cup.