What Could Have Been 

Early Two Man Powerplay Goal Sinks Flames 

May 31st, 2004

The table was set.

The cake was in the oven. The stir fry was sizzling nicely. The candles lit. The wine glasses sparkling.

But the Flames may have let the opportunity of a lifetime slip through their fingers, the fans vibrating and jumping in support, up 2-1 in their best of seven Stanley Cup final series, winners of two straight on home ice, the opposition missing two key players . . . . . and splat.

It may be the ultimate irony the Tampa Bay Lightning went on to win a 1-0 decision and even this series at two games apiece, Calgary and its uber-goalie Miikka Kiprusoff usually the specialists in tight, low-scoring games with Tampa better suited for up and down goal fests.

But the Lightning managed the only goal of the game on an early, stunning and debatable five on three power play opportunity, coincidental calls to Mike Commodore and Chris Clark leaving the flustered Flames helpless as Brad Richards pounded a point shot over the shoulder of Kiprusoff only 2:48 in.

"Fraser Sucks!!" screamed the crowd, fingering referee Kerry Fraser for their pain (although referee Brad Watson was the guy calling Clark), the seething multitudes no doubt fearing the unnerving statistic that the team scoring first in this playoff year has won 80% of the time.

That turned out to be a solid, measured analysis by the screaming Gallery Gods, the bleacher bums, because that was the statistical difference in a game that evens this series at 2-2, a Stanley Cup final that has been reduced to a best of three and heading back to the swampy ice of Tampa.

Nik Khabibulin stopped all 29 Calgary shots for the shutout, his fifth of the post-season tying Kiprusoff for the lead in that category.

"It's first goal and then defend it," said a non-plussed Sutter of a game that eventually settled down into a crawling, defensive morass, although the Flames largely held the balance of play.

"We were so good everywhere . . . . except getting the five on three called against us," admitted Sutter.

Stunning, isn't it, that Calgary would finish this homestand allowing only one goal to one of the premier offensive teams in the NHL, yet leaving the building with a split, Tampa regaining home ice advantage?

Yet the Flames did have their opportunities, ending with 29 shots but missing the net on many others that were premier scoring chances, their lack of aim doing them in as much as the early Richard's goal.

"I thought it was a helluva hockey game," said Sutter, apparently watching a grinding, defensive contest that only a coach could love, this one petering into nothingness as the Lightning gave little away in the final period.

"The second period we had great chances and missed the net," said Sutter. "You gotta bear down on the opportunities that present themselves."

"We did everything we could," he added, suggesting he'll do little to alter his game plan heading into the fifth game of this series.

"I thought we were all over the rink tonight," said Tampa's Fredrik Modin after the game. "We played better than we had here in the past."

"I thought it was a solid team effort from Khabby all the way through," added Modin.

"We found a way to get it done," said Tampa coach John Tortorella. "Skill players, new guys coming in . . . . ugly as hell but we found a way."

The Richards Curse held up as well, the Lightning 22-0-2 in the regular season and now 8-0 in the playoffs when the talented forward has scored.

It was the seventh game winning goal of the post-season for Richards, a new NHL record, eclipsing the old mark of six held jointly by Joe Nieuwendyk and Joe Sakic.

Ville Nieminen killed any hope of a Flames comeback with a head shattering hit from behind to Vincent Lecavalier, the star Lightning centre's helmet sent flying as his noggin splattered against the glass with less than five minutes to go.

Lecavalier wouldn't play another shift in the game while super pest Nieminen was banished with a five minute major and a game misconduct, the possibility of further suspension, his second of the playoffs, a distinct possibility given the crime.

If Lecavalier is unable to go further for concussion reasons it would come as another stunning blow to a Tampa team unused to injuries, the Lightning already missing Pavel Kubina and Ruslan Fedotenko.

The Lightning were barely touched by injuries through the regular season and playoffs until they met up with the Flames, but this series is now becoming a war of attrition for them.

Yet there's something we know that Modin might not, that Calgary has entered every game five in this remarkable playoff year tied 2-2 and won every time, on the road as well.

So off they march to Tampa Bay, whistling confidently, their helmets tilted to a jaunty angle, their sticks swinging freely on their shoulders.

Or is that too optimistic after a disappointing result in a game they could have easily won?

Is destiny still giving them a tailwind? Or did they snuff their chances at the Holy Grail with a shutout loss at home?

Frankly, we're glad we're still here to find out.





1) Nik Khabibulin - Some pretty good saves through this game but nothing particularly stunning until the final minutes when he snagged a shorthanded Andrew Ference point shot.

2) Miikka Kiprusoff - Allowed the only goal on a two man disadvantage and stopped everything else through two home games. Don't blame him.

3) Cory Sarich - A rough and tumble game on the Tampa blueline, a key guy with Kubina out.

With less than two minutes remaining, Calgary won a faceoff clean and Andrew Ference drilled a point shot that Khabibulin nabbed out of thin air, preserving the Tampa lead.

Lumbering down the sideboards into the Flames end, the barge known as Chris Dingman was blown up by a hard hit from the game but smaller Steve Montador.

Tampa has not lost back to back games so far this playoff year. . . . . Tampa is now 12-2 in the playoffs, the same as the Flames, when they score first. The Flames fall to 2-8 when they surrender the first goal. . . . .Calgary's powerplay had its four game powerplay goal streak ended. . . . . While Nieminen's hit on Lecavalier was inexcusable, Flames fans are right to be still seething over the head shots delivered to Nieminen and Marcus Nilson in game one. . . . . . Kiprusoff faced 24 shots. . . . . . The 29 shots by the Flames elevated them into respectability after failing to top 20 in the first three games. . . . . "I thought Nik was outstanding tonight," said Tortorella of his goaltender. "I thought it was Nik's best game of this round." . . . . Calgary was 61% in the faceoff, a remarkable turnaround from the brutal beating Calgary centres had been taking to this point. Craig Conroy was 69% for the Flames while Tim Taylor was 61% for the Lightning. . . . . Robyn Regehr registered 30:37 in ice time to lead the Flames. Some speculation suggested Rhett Warrener was playing with a separated shoulder but his 23:28 in ice time belied the rumour. martin St. Louis led Tampa with 22:49.

Gelinas Conroy Iginla 
Nieminen Nilson Donovan 
Simon Yelle Clark 
Oliwa Kobasew Saprykin

Regehr Montador 
Ference Commodore 
Warrener Leopold

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