PLAYOFF SERIES: Stanley Cup finals; tied 3-3.
Whether Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella really was that confident or just using a psychological ploy to motivate his team, he proved to be right when he predicted there would be a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup finals.
The Lightning beat the Calgary Flames 3-2 in double-overtime on Saturday, forcing the teams back to the St. Pete Times Forum for this decisive contest. Martin St. Louis knocked in a rebound in the opening seconds of the second extra period to ruin the night for Calgary and Canada, which had been waiting to celebrate a title.
St. Louis’ goal spoiled the Flames’ opportunity to win the Cup at home and become one of the most improbable champions in NHL history.
Tortorella never seemed worried, even with his team one goal from witnessing that celebration firsthand. After the Lightning lost Game 5 in overtime Thursday night, he answered “Yes we will,” when asked if his club would return to Tampa for a Game 7.
“It’s been a hell of a series, and it’s fitting we have a Game 7,” Tortorella said.
While the Flames’ faithful were ready to party, and Canada ready to savor the first Stanley Cup won by a Canadian team since 1993, there was at least one sure indicator that the Cup wouldn’t remain in Calgary on Saturday. Brad Richards scored two power-play goals in regulation, and Tampa Bay improved to 31-0-2 overall and 9-0 in the playoffs when Richards scores.
To send the series back to Florida from western Canada, the Lightning needed their stars to step up, and they did. Richards, arguably the Lightning’s best forward during the playoffs, continued to produce with his team-leading 11th and 12th goals, and St. Louis delivered the winner.
Nikolai Khabibulin made 31 saves, including 14 in the overtimes, and the Lightning probably will need those same players to be at their best in Game 7 if they want to complete the improbable comeback from a 3-2 series deficit.
That Colorado team also won Game 6 on the road to force a decisive contest. Tampa Bay’s trademark resiliency allowed it to do the same Saturday, as it bounced back from losing Game 5 at home. Khabibulin improved to 7-0 in these playoffs following a defeat as the Lightning continued to alternate wins and losses for the 13th consecutive game, a playoff record.
The Lightning could also use some more luck. After Calgary’s Marcus Nilson tied the game at 2-2 at 17:49 of the third, the Flames almost won it on a power play. Khabibulin stuck out his right leg to stop Martin Gelinas’ rebound attempt perilously close to the goal line, and multiple replays did not conclusively show the puck crossing the line.
“They’ve got so many cameras, I imagine they would’ve phoned down if it went in,” said Gelinas, who scored the clinching goal in each of Calgary’s three series victories.
Although the “Sea of Red” crowd at the Pengrowth Saddledome went home disappointed, Saturday’s result could be seen as predictable. In addition to the Lightning’s long streak of alternating wins and losses, Calgary’s stunning Stanley Cup run has been possible mostly because of its play on the road. The Flames, who finished 5-7 at the Saddledome in this postseason, are 10-3 on the road.
Along with luck and a strong performance from their top players, Tampa Bay may have benefited from some important wisdom in Game 6.
Ray Bourque, a member of the 2001 Avalanche, called Lightning center Tim Taylor—his former Boston Bruins teammate—on Saturday with advice on how to overcome a 3-2 deficit. He also offered encouragement to the Lightning’s Dave Andreychuk, who has played a record 1,758 games without winning the Cup. Bourque went 22 seasons before lifting the trophy with the Avs.
“They (the 2001 Avalanche) did it, so why couldn’t we?” St. Louis said. “It meant a lot to hear from a Hall of Famer like him.”
Now, it’s Tampa Bay’s turn to try and keep its emotions in check in front of a wild home crowd anticipating a title. While the fired-up red-clad Calgary fans chanted “We want the Cup” several times during Saturday’s game, thousands of Lightning fans supported their team in Tampa, watching on a huge screen outside the St. Pete Times Forum, banging white ThunderStix and cheering wildly.
The fans will bring that enthusiasm inside the arena Monday, when the raucous atmosphere of Game 5 is sure to be duplicated.
“Game 7 will be a great experience,” Tortorella said. “We’re not going to tippy-toe, we’re going to dive right in.”
While the Lightning will be counting on a big game from their star forwards and Khabibulin as they look to capture the Cup, Calgary probably won’t win if it doesn’t get a big game from power forward Jarome Iginla and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff.
Iginla, the Flames’ captain, powered his team to the Game 5 victory, scoring his playoff-leading 13th goal before setting up Oleg Saprykin’s overtime goal. But the Lightning held Iginla without a point Saturday, as the defensive pairings of Pavel Kubina and Darryl Sydor, and Nolan Pratt and Cory Sarich helped shut him down.
Kiprusoff, who has been as responsible for Calgary’s playoff run as any player, made 24 saves Saturday. He won his other Game 7 of this postseason, when the Flames won in overtime to defeat Vancouver in the first round.
Although Calgary couldn’t close out Tampa Bay on Saturday, history is still on the Flames’ side as they try to capture their first Cup since 1989. The team winning Game 5 of a Stanley Cup final tied 2-2 has gone on to win the championship 14 of 18 times.
The team scoring first has won every game in the series.
The Flames are 5-4 all-time in Game 7s. The Lightning beat Philadelphia in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, the first seventh game in the franchise’s brief history.
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, 13 goals and 22 points; Craig Conroy, 11 assists; Chris Simon, 74 PIM. Lightning - Richards, 12 goals; St. Louis, 15 assists; Richards and St. Louis, 24 points; Chris Dingman, 63 PIM.
PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Flames - Power play: 13.2 percent (14 for 106). Penalty killing: 83.9 percent (94 for 112). Lightning - Power play: 21.1 percent (20 for 95). Penalty killing: 85.9 percent (61 for 71).
GOALTENDERS: Flames - Kiprusoff (15-10, 5 SO, 1.84 GAA); Roman Turek (0-0, 0.00). Lightning - Khabibulin (15-7, 5, 1.74); John Grahame (0-0, 3.53).