Dream Season Ends in Tampa 

Slow Start and Late Penalty Yield Cup to Lightning 

June 7th, 2004

There's just no way around it ... this one is going to hurt for a while.

It will hurt tonight.

It will hurt tomorrow.

But if a few days the focus will shift. No longer will a fan, player, or coach's thoughts linger on a the disappointing finish in Florida in slushy ice conditions, but to a great turnaround season for the Calgary Flames - a run that saw them run it out to the apex, a game seven 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

But for tonight, as I say, it will hurt.

Thankfully the third period became somewhat recognizable to onlookers that saw the Flames churn through challenge after challenge throughout the last two months, never letting up.

The first two periods in this one had the visitors skating in sand. They couldn't get the puck deep when shooting it in. They couldn't get in fast enough to cause their havoc forecheck. They couldn't make tape to tape passes to generate any sort of offence.

The little engine that could, just wouldn't on this night, at least through forty minutes when the Flames had only seven shots on goal, a statistic that may have actually favoured the road squad.

The Bolts opened the scoring, a death knell in these playoffs as the Lightning are now 14-2 when doing so, when Ruslan Fedotenko picked up a powerplay rebound by slipping behind two Calgary defenders and pushed the puck past Miikka Kiprusoff to make it 1-0.

In the end all seven games had the victors scoring first, a fact that seemed to almost paralyze the Flames as they almost instantaneously slipped into a desperation game that had them forcing the play individually, abandoning the system that got them here.

The second period was better territorially for the Flames, not that they generated much in the way of scoring chances.

If you had to wag a finger at one part of their game it was the depleted defence core that appeared to simply run out of gas - as the group gave the puck away, blew some coverage assignments and acted handcuffed each and every time the puck slid back to the blueline for an offensive chance. There were too many times to count when a Calgary defenceman got the puck and then stickhandled towards the boards and shot it in rather than trying to force something towards the net when they had time.

A defensive gaff late in the second essentially iced this one when Vincent Lecavalier turned Steve Montador inside out before setting the puck to game hero Fedotenko who buried his second of the night.

Fedotenko alluded to a change in the Lightning approach to Calgary's hitting game that made the difference in the end.

"Sometimes we tried to respond, but it took away from our game. We tried to play physical, but within our game. If you make the hit you take yourself out of the play", said Fedotenko.

The Flames hit for a powerplay goal midway through the third period when Craig Conroy, held to one point through the series to that point, corralled a loose puck heading out of the zone, turned and fired a shot that may have hit Martin Gelinas and bounced into the top corner past Nikolai Khabibulin.

From there the Flames had the Lightning on the ropes, and some inspired play that seems to make the pill a little less difficult to swallow despite the finish.

Jordan Leopold had the best chance when he jumped on a Khabibulin rebound and fired a shot that the goaltender reached with a pad and blocker to keep the score a goal apart. A smidgeon lower, a hint higher and you have a goal, but Khabibulin was equal to the task.

Any real late push by the Flames was halted when Andrew Ference took a charging penalty with just over a minute left effectively ending the night.

In the end the hits just weren't there for Calgary in the last two games of this series, a fact that could be due to a grueling playoff run for the Flames finally running the gas from their collective tank, or to the fact that the Bolts changed things up. They did appear to move the puck more quickly making the hit game more of a chase situation and less of an opportunity after opportunity. 

When it came right down to it the Lightning had their best players rise to the occasion with the series on the line - Martin St. Louis in overtime and Brad Richards through regulation in games six, and the Fedotenko Lecavalier show in game seven. Tampa goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin was solid in both games.

Meanwhile Calgary had Jarome Iginla pointless in the last two games while generating only two shots ... none in game seven. Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary's other true star, gave up five goals in two games on only 42 shots, something very uncharacteristic of the stopper.

The two game blemish doesn't take away from a great playoff for both players, but it just wasn't enough to finish the job.

"It was something special, but it could have been even more special. But this team has Kiprusoff and a good young D, this will be a good team for a long, long time", said former Captain Craig Conroy. Conroy, an unrestricted free agent heading into some serious labour uncertainty may have just played his last game in Flame silks.

So let it hurt tonight. It's about winning - for the players, the coaches, the managers and of course the fans. The Flames weren't supposed to make the playoffs - they did. They weren't supposed to win a playoff round - they did. They certainly weren't supposed to win three and advance to the Stanley Cup Final ... but they did. In the end though you could taste it up three games to two and in overtime in game six in Calgary. 

That close, but oh so far away.

Remember, however, the pain will fade, and the realization will sink in. The Calgary Flames shed a lot of ugly baggage this spring. They are no longer a laughing stock, no longer that team that misses the playoffs. No longer that team that may as well move to an American city. The city is once again in their corner, and will remain with a young team that will likely only get better both with the players they have, the players that are soon to come, and possible financial sanity on the horizon.

In a few days it will sink in. What a great ride it was.

Thank you Flames.




Lightning 2

1) Vincent Lecavalier - Only one point, an assist on Fedotenko's second goal, but the best player on the ice in this one..

2) Nikolai Khabibulin - Likely got some quality zzz's through the first two periods but was great in the third period in preserving the cup for Tampa when the Lightning started to unravel.

3) Chuck Kobasew - Very fitting that the best Flames forward on the night, heck the best Flames forward was a young player without a goal in these playoffs. A feisty player all night and won all five of his playoffs.

Nikolai Khabibulin made a dandy on Jordan Leopold in the third period with the Flames pressing and looking for the equalizer. 

Chuck Kobasew highlighted his spirited evening by drilling Dan Boyle into the boards in the second period to keep the puck alive on the cycle.

Cory Stillman on his former team - "I owe them a lot, they drafted me in the first round 12 years ago and gave me a start in this league. But I'm sure glad I beat them" ... Dave Andreychuk on the team that came up short "That's a heck of a team over there, they just never quit. Their coaching staff their players, you have to feel bad for them." ... The Flames were on the low side of the penalty calling on the night with only two powerplays of the seven awarded on the night. Both teams struck once with the man advantage. ... Watching a team down you look for potential turning points that could change the game on a dime. Chris Clark had a potential moment in the second when he and Andrew Ference both lost their sticks with the Flames killing a penalty - essentially down three men. Clark found the puck in a maze of skates and cuffed it down the ice with his glove saving a sure to be goal given the circumstances. ... There wasn't a shot on goal for either club in the games' first eight minutes. ... The Lightning bested the Flames in the face off circle to a tune of 52%. Stephane Yelle took 62% of his draws, and Chuck Kobasew won all five of his. Marcus Nilson won only 16% of his 18 faceoffs. ... On the night the Flames out shot the Bolts 17-15 and 10-5 in the third period. ... If Robyn Regehr has a serious injury he sure wasn't letting on as he was one of four defencemen hitting the ice between 22 and 24 minutes. The others were Andrew Ference, Rhett Warrener and Jordan Leopold. Jarome Iginla had similar minutes up front. 

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

Regehr Montador 
Ference Lydman 
Warrener Leopold

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