- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 1, 2004

CALGARY, Alberta — When Brad Richards scores, Tampa Bay can’t lose. He ended all of the Lightning’s worries early last night.

Richards scored his playoff record seventh game-winning goal just 2:48 into Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, firing the puck past screened goalie Miikka Kiprusoff with a two-man advantage as the Lightning beat the Calgary Flames 1-0 to tie the series. Tampa Bay is 30-0-2 this season when Richards scores, 8-0 in the playoffs.

“It was ugly as [heck], but we found a way to get it done,” said Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella, whose team played without the injured Ruslan Fedotenko and Pavel Kubina.

Richards’ shot from the left faceoff dot gave him his 10th goal this postseason.

“[Calgary defenseman] Rhett Warrener was on the blocker side, but there was an opening on the glove side, so I shot it,” said Richards, who didn’t have a goal in 11 playoff games last spring. “It was a big goal, but I can’t say enough about [goalie Nikolai Khabibulin] and our team for making it stand up.”

Khabibulin stopped all 29 shots in recording his fifth shutout in the playoffs. Only New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur with seven in 2003 and Detroit’s Dominik Hasek with six in 2002 have had more in a postseason. The Lightning, who lost 3-0 here Saturday, have followed all six of their playoff defeats with a victory, outscoring their foes 18-5.

“There was definitely a lot of desperation,” defenseman Jassen Cullimore said. “The theme was ‘Let’s get the what-ifs or almosts out of our vocabulary.’”

Tampa Bay, which plays host to Calgary in Game 5 on Thursday, improved to 12-2 this spring when scoring the first goal, while the Flames fell to 2-8 when allowing the first goal.

The first team to score has won every game of the series.

“It’s the first goal again, and they did a good job of defending [the lead],” Flames coach Darryl Sutter said. “We were so good everywhere except getting the 5-on-3 called against us.”

Calgary wasted a golden chance to tie the game when Martin Gelinas fired way wide on a two-on-one with playoff scoring leader Jarome Iginla at 5:38. The Flames also failed on two power plays in the first period and have scored on just three of their last 44 chances with an extra skater during the playoffs. While Game 3 was played at Calgary’s close-checking pace, last night’s fast tempo was much more to Tampa Bay’s liking. The teams combined for 24 shots in the first period, just 15 fewer than they took in all of Game 3.

Gelinas couldn’t convert two more tremendous opportunities in the first two minutes of the second period, shooting wide on a rush and being unable to get good wood on a backhand from his knees on Khabibulin’s doorstep. Kiprusoff thwarted Richards from the lower left circle at 14:51 before Gelinas misfired again from the right side of the net at 18:25.

After his team was shut out 3-0 by Kiprusoff in Game 3, Tortorella challenged his top scorers, including Richards, to raise their play. That was even more critical when Fedotenko was unable to play last night after being hurled face first into the boards late in Game 3 by Warrener. In a near-replay of that hit, Ville Nieminen left the Flames short-handed for the final 4:13 after being assessed a major penalty for boarding Vincent Lecavalier. Still, Andrew Ference forced Khabibulin to snatch a slap shot out of the air with 1:53 left to preserve the victory.

The Lightning, 8-3 at home in the playoffs, can win the Cup in their first trip to the finals by retaining the home-ice advantage they regained last night.

“We definitely have to use that to our advantage,” captain Dave Andreychuk said.

However, Calgary can take heart from its sterling 9-3 road record and the fact that Tampa Bay hasn’t won two straight since Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, a span of 10 games.

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