CALGARY, Alberta (AP)—Calgary is revving up to enjoy one of the most unlikely Stanley Cup championships in NHL history, one some Flames fans probably thought they’d never see but now might be only hours away.
There is talk 100,000 will jam 17th Ave., known as the Red Mile in the Flames’ honor, to celebrate a Cup-clinching victory in Game 6 against Tampa Bay on Saturday night. Newspaper headlines declare Jarome Iginla is virtually certain to be the playoffs MVP once Calgary wins its first Cup since 1989, completing an improbable run for the sixth seed in the Western Conference.
So why is Lightning coach John Tortorella talking as if Game 7 on Monday not only is a possibility, but a certainty?
And why was Flames coach Darryl Sutter, overly cautious throughout the playoffs about speaking a single word that could turn up on an opponent’s bulletin board, even more restrained than usual Friday?
Maybe it’s because Tortorella and Sutter both know recent history suggests that a Cup-deciding victory in Game 6 is anything but assured.
Three of the last five teams with a chance to win the Cup in Game 6 couldn’t do so: the 2003 and 2001 Devils and the 1994 Rangers. The 2000 Devils and 1999 Stars pulled it off, but Dallas needed a third overtime in Buffalo and a disputed goal by Brett Hull and the Devils required a two-overtime game in Dallas. The 2001 Devils not only lost Game 6 at home to Colorado, they lost Game 7 and the series, too.
“It just tells you that every game is sort of an entity unto itself,” a weary Sutter said, only a few hours removed from an all-night flight following Thursday’s 3-2 overtime victory in Game 5.
What Tortorella is telling his players is the series isn’t over. Asked if he expects to go back home for Game 7, he said, “Yes, we will.”
He even revealed the Lightning’s travel plans, saying they will stay in Calgary after Game 6 to rest up before flying home Sunday.
“Then we’ll go on to Game 7,” he said.
Most coaches avoid this kind of opponent-motivating tool, but Tortorella obviously feels his team needs an injection of confidence following Thursday’s overtime disappointment.
His tactic is low-risk, too, since the Flames seemingly own nearly every advantage as they close in on becoming Canada’s first Stanley Cup champion since Montreal in 1993. The excitement in Calgary is inescapable, the Flames’ all-in-red fans are certain to be at their tumultuous best and the momentum is theirs.
But Tortorella must have liked this sign: An optional skate Friday afternoon attracted every player, a rarity so late in the two-month playoff grind.
“We’re fine. We feel good … the pressure’s not on us right now, it’s on Calgary’s team,” Tortorella said. “They’ve got all of Canada here waiting for them to win, the Cup’s in the building … they’re making all the calls to get their relatives in. I’m anxious to see how they respond.”
Flames forward Shean Donovan, who missed part of Thursday’s game with an unspecified leg injury, remembers Calgary lost a potential series-ending Game 6 at home against Vancouver during the first round before winning Game 7 on the road.
“It’s whatever team wants it most,” Donovan said. “Whatever team grabs hold right from the start … (and) as it goes through, whoever keeps on pushing the whole game.”
That’s why Flames defenseman Andrew Ference isn’t getting too caught up in the moment.
“To a certain extent, we have embraced the excitement the city has brought—the people on the streets, the cars painted and the flags flying—but come game time it’s important to block some of those things out … when you get on the ice, it’s not going to help you one bit,” he said.
The teams split their earlier two games in the Saddledome, with Calgary winning 3-0 in Game 3 on May 29 but the Lightning winning 1-0 in Game 4 Monday on Brad Richards’ power-play goal.
During that game, fans repeatedly booed referees Kerry Fraser and Brad Watson, angry about the 5-on-3 advantage that led to Richards’ goal and a five-minute major penalty on Ville Nieminen that left the Flames shorthanded during the final four-plus minutes. Nieminen returns for Game 6 after sitting out a one-game suspension.
Fraser and Watson were to have worked Game 6, but the league changed its rotation and will bring back Game 5 referees Bill McCreary and Stephen Walkom.