- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 1, 2004

CALGARY, Alberta — When the St. Louis Blues, a perennial playoff team, traded 29-year-old center Craig Conroy to ne’er-do-well Calgary in 2001, he figured his chance of winning the Stanley Cup was history. But Conroy is in the finals for those Flames, coincidentally against Tampa Bay and Cory Stillman, the player for whom he was dealt three years ago.

“Every year in St. Louis, it seemed like whoever beat us won the Cup,” said Conroy, whose Blues lost to eventual champions Detroit in 1997 and 1998 and Dallas in 1999. “Even the year we won the President’s Trophy and got knocked off by San Jose [2000], we said, ‘Next year we’re going to get better.’ But I got traded, and I felt my chance at the Cup was probably gone. Here, our goal wasn’t winning a Cup. It was getting to the playoffs. So now to get a shot at doing something you’ve dreamed about since you were five is almost unreal.”

St. Louis and Stillman lost to two more eventual champions in Colorado (2001) and Detroit (2002) after the trade. The Blues went out to Vancouver in the first round in 2003 and then dealt Stillman to the Lightning for a second-round draft pick.

“It’s amazing to finally be in the finals, especially against the team that you spent seven years with,” the 30-year-old Stillman said.

Double the pleasure

Lightning owner Bill Davidson also owns the Detroit Pistons, so entering last night he was just eight victories away from celebrating two championships in the same spring.

Paramount came close to that historic double dip in 1994, when the New York Rangers won the Cup and the Knicks lost the NBA Finals in seven games to Houston.

Davidson, 81, lives in Michigan and rarely attends Lightning games, although he was on hand for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. He has owned the Pistons for 30 years, 25 years longer than he has the Lightning, and he only talks with Lightning general manager Jay Feaster about once a month.

“Mr. Davidson gives you the parameters: ‘This is what I am prepared to lose this year,’ the payroll based on our revenue, but once he does that, it’s my bed to make one way or the other,” Feaster said. “He allows us to do our jobs. There’s nothing but support. There’s no second-guessing. From our perspective, you can’t ask for more than that.”

Sweeter the second time

Krzysztof Oliwa is one of four Flames forwards with a Stanley Cup ring. But unlike Stephane Yelle (1996 and 2001), Ville Nieminen (2001) and the injured Steve Reinprecht (2001), who were regulars for Colorado title teams, enforcer Oliwa was scratched for every game of New Jersey’s title run in 2000.

“This definitely means more because I am playing,” said the 31-year-old Oliwa, who had played in all but six of Calgary’s first 22 playoff games, albeit for an average of just 3:58. “I loved playing for the Devils. [General manager] Lou Lamoriello gave me a chance. I would never say anything bad about them. Things in life happen that make you a stronger person and you learn from.”

Flames backup goalie Roman Turek can relate all too well to Oliwa’s situation. Turek backed up Ed Belfour and never got on the ice as Dallas won the 1999 Cup. He is in nearly the same position this time, playing second fiddle to Miikka Kiprusoff. Turek’s only action this spring has been 19 minutes in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals against San Jose.

Go Flames!

Dale Hunter has to be a Flames fan. If the Lightning win and give 40-year-old center Dave Andreychuk his first championship, Hunter would have the unenviable record of playing in the most NHL games (regular season and playoffs) without a Stanley Cup. With 1,593 games, Hunter is followed by fellow retired former Washington Capitals Phil Housley (1,580) and Mike Gartner (1,554). Unlike Hunter and Housley, who skated for the Caps in the 1998 finals against Detroit, Hall of Famer Gartner never made it to this stage.

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