- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004

CALGARY, Alberta — The Stanley Cup was in the building. An expected crowd of 100,000 at 17th Avenue was ready to hold Canada’s biggest celebration in memory. But Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis, let go by Calgary four years ago, spoiled the Flames’ party with a goal that gave the Lightning a 3-2, double-overtime victory in Game 6 last night in a disappointed Saddledome.

St. Louis, who had taken oxygen earlier in the night because of the high altitude in Calgary, started the play by winning a battle with Jordan Leopold in the Calgary zone. The puck worked free to Tim Taylor, whose shot from the left point was tipped by Brad Richards and then to St. Louis, who shot it between Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff and the left post just 33 seconds into the second overtime.

“We got it done to get to Game 7,” St. Louis said of the decisive game, which will be played in Tampa, Fla., tomorrow. “What a feeling!”

Richards, who had Tampa Bay’s first two goals and leads the playoffs with 25 points, continued his amazing good luck charm magic: The Lightning are 31-0-2 when he scores this season, 9-0 in the playoffs. Lightning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin improved to 7-0 this spring following a Tampa Bay defeat.

Now the Flames have to point to three other statistics heading into Game7. The road team is 4-2 in the finals, Kiprusoff is 7-1 this spring after a loss and the Lightning are trying to join only the 1964 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 2001 Colorado Avalanche in losing Game 5 at home but rebounding to win the next two and the Cup.

The teams came out tight last night with the Cup on the line. That was especially true of the Flames, who knew they could clinch. The shots were just 1-1 after 6:00, and the best scoring chance of the first nine minutes came on a no-look backhand by 40-year-old Lightning center Dave Andreychuk.

Oleg Saprykin, the hero of Game5, went in on a 2-on-1 with Chuck Kobasew at 10:12 but shot wide. And the Flames never got their struggling power play set up after Cory Sarich threw Martin Gelinas into the net at 16:35.

After the series’ first scoreless opening period, Calgary started the second with 1:01 left in another advantage it had gained because of Ruslan Fedotenko’s interference penalty but failed again to generate a real threat. However, Tampa Bay’s power play soon showed why it’s superior to Calgary’s.

With Leopold in the box for interfering with Dmitry Afanasenkov at 2:34, Richards hit the right post with a shot. Richards then shot from the goal line to Kiprusoff’s right and watched the puck bounce off the Calgary goalie’s blocker and into the net at 4:17.

Trailing 1-0, the Flames stepped it up and tied the score at 9:05. Stephane Yelle blasted a shot that rebounded behind the net. Ville Niemenen, back from his one-game suspension for a hit on Vincent Lecavalier, grabbed the puck and threw it blindly across the crease to the left post, from where Chris Clark jammed it in before Khabibulin could get there at 9:05.

However, Craig Conroy hooked Lecavalier just 20 seconds later, and at 10:52, Richards broke free of a scrum, jumped on the puck butchered by Marcus Nilson and fired it past Kiprusoff for his 12th goal of the playoffs to put Tampa Bay on top again 2-1.

But again the Flames played better from behind. Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle failed to knock the puck down with his hand at his blue line only to see it bounce right to Saprykin, who passed to wide-open Nilson for the point-blank tying goal at 17:49.

Conroy hooked Darryl Sydor 45 seconds into the third period, but this time Calgary’s penalty-killers got the job done, allowing just one shot. Calgary smartly killed off Chris Simon’s penalty for cross-checking St. Louis at 8:38 and then began a power play of its own 1:40 later when Jassen Cullimore pushed Saprykin into the net.

Gelinas came so close to putting the puck in with his left skate on a rebound of Saprykin’s shot, but Khabibulin made the stop with his right leg at 13:12. Replays showed the puck crossing the goal line in the air, but the officials ruled otherwise, and the teams headed for overtime.

After a furious but fruitless start to the first overtime, Nilson had the best chance to end it at 9:50 as he tipped a pass by Saprykin into the butterflied Khabibulin.

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