PLAYOFF SERIES: Stanley Cup finals; tied 2-2.
Winning Game 5 when the Stanley Cup finals are tied doesn’t guarantee anything.
History, however, does prove that it puts one team in a very favorable position.
With his team in danger of falling behind 3-1 in the series Monday, Nikolai Khabibulin stopped 29 shots for his fifth shutout of the postseason to lead the Lightning to a 1-0 victory, sending the series back to Tampa Bay tied 2-2.
Brad Richards scored the only goal on a two-man advantage 2:48 into the game—his NHL-record seventh game-winner of the playoffs. The Lightning improved to 8-0 in the postseason when Richards scores a goal and 30-0-2 this season.
“I have no control over whether it’s a game-winner or not,” Richards said. “It was just a big goal to get on a five-on-three. We won the game. It’s great to score goals, but your team has to do the job to shut them down.”
Instead of needing to win three straight games to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup, Tampa Bay can take a huge step toward that goal with a win at home in Game 5.
Fourteen of the last 18 Game 5 winners in tied final series have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. The 2001 Colorado Avalanche are the only team since 1971 to rally from a 3-2 deficit.
The Flames, however, should feel very comfortable in this position.
Each of their first three series has been 2-2 through four games, and they have gone on to win Game 5 every time. Playing on the road also doesn’t seem to bother Calgary, which won Game 5 at Vancouver, Detroit and San Jose.
“That’s in the past, we’ve got to do it in the future,” Flames forward Craig Conroy said. “Game 5 has got to be just like we talked about in every series. Game 5 has got to be our best game of the series and then we go from there.”
With a 9-3 road record during the playoffs, the Flames may prefer playing away from the Pengrowth Saddledome, where they are just 5-6 in the postseason. With two of the next three games to be played at Tampa, Calgary will need to win at least one more road game to capture its first Stanley Cup since 1989.
Most observers believed this series would be a showcase for Tampa Bay’s speed and skill and Calgary’s determination, but the play has become more physical and nasty with each game.
The most vicious hit of the series was delivered by Flames left wing Ville Nieminen on Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier late in Game 4. Nieminen will not play Game 5 after he was suspended one game for ramming Lecavalier from behind while the Tampa Bay center was digging for the puck.
“This was a hit that clearly crossed the line and was directed at the head,” NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell said. “Even if Lecavalier is able to play in Game 5, this type of hit must be subject to supplemental discipline.”
Lecavalier, Tampa Bay’s top center, required stitches for a cut on the right side of his head and may have sustained a concussion. His status for Thursday is uncertain.
Lecavalier joins a growing list of injured Lightning players. Forward Ruslan Fedotenko, tied for team lead with 10 playoff goals, and defenseman Pavel Kubina both missed Game 4 with injuries and may not be available Thursday.
One reason why these teams are two wins away from the Stanley Cup is their ability to consistently rebound from losses in the postseason.
Tampa Bay is 6-0 and has outscored opponents 18-5 following losses. Calgary has won six of seven after defeats, losing only Game 4 of the conference finals against San Jose.
Since taking the opener of the conference finals against Philadelphia, the Lightning have been unable to win consecutive games. They won eight straight in a stretch that spanned the first three playoff series, but are 5-5 since.
“I just think as you go through the long road in the playoffs, it’s a matter of trying to keep momentum,” Lightning coach John Tortorella said. “I think at times, we have it, and there’s another team out there trying to gain that momentum back.”
Production from captain Jarome Iginla would go a long way toward giving Calgary a 3-2 series lead.
Iginla failed to register a point in Games 2 and 4 of this series, and the Flames lost both games. He totaled two goals and one assist in Games 1 and 3— both Calgary victories.
The series moves back to Calgary for Game 6 on Saturday.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Flames - 6th seed; beat Vancouver Canucks 4-3, West quarterfinals; beat Detroit Red Wings 4-2, West semifinals; beat San Jose Sharks 4-2, West finals. Lightning - 1st seed; beat New York Islanders 4-1, East quarterfinals; beat Montreal Canadiens 4-0, East semifinals; beat Philadelphia Flyers 4-3, East finals.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Flames - Iginla, 12 goals and 20 points; Conroy, 11 assists; Chris Simon, 72 PIM. Lightning - Richards and Fedotenko, 10 goals; Martin St. Louis, 14 assists; Richards and St. Louis, 21 points; Chris Dingman, 63 PIM.
PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Flames - Power play: 12.9 percent (13 for 101). Penalty killing: 84.5 percent (93 for 110). Lightning - Power play: 19.1 percent (17 for 89). Penalty killing: 87.0 percent (60 for 69).