- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 26, 2004

TAMPA, Fla. — The Calgary Flames weren’t supposed to make the playoffs. Then, they weren’t supposed to have much chance against division champions Vancouver, Detroit and San Jose. So the prospects of beating another champion, the Eastern Conference’s Tampa Bay Lightning, in its own building weren’t exactly intimidating.

The Flames went ahead and did just that last night, scoring on their first shot en route to a surprising 4-1 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Flames took a 1-0 lead when Martin Gelinas — who scored the clincher in each of the three Western Conference series — had linemate Craig Conroy’s drive bounce off his right skate and slide past Tampa Bay goalie Nikolai Khabibulin at 3:02 of the first period. Then, captain Jarome Iginla doubled the Flames’ pleasure at 15:21 of the second period, having the presence of mind to put on the brakes and come back from behind the goal line to stuff the rebound of his own short-handed shot inside the left post for his playoff-high 11th goal. Tampa Bay’s Fredrik Modin whiffed on the puck in his own zone, allowing the scoring chance.

“That was the turning point,” said Lightning coach John Tortorella, whose power play clicked on five of its final seven chances in the Eastern Conference finals against Philadelphia but went just 1-for-5 last night. “A few of our guys were a little jittery. We weren’t simple enough. We got a little fancy at times. We overpassed it and tried to force things, and Calgary is the type of team that can jump on your turnovers and bad passes.”

No Flames player is better at that than the speedy Iginla.

“We have a lot of respect for Tampa’s power play, but we try to put some pressure on them and see if we get some chances,” Iginla said. “It was a great break. I think the puck bounced over Modin’s stick. I knew it was going to be a breakaway, and I went in there and had a lot of time to think about it. I was trying to go top corner. Khabibulin made a great glove save. I could see it go up in the air. I stopped to watch it [because] I thought it might roll in. I was thrilled when I saw I was going to have another chance.”

Up 2-0, the Flames knew they were in great shape.

“We’re a pretty good defensive team, and we feel that we’re ahead, we can play our game and we don’t feel the pressure to score a goal,” Gelinas said.

But score again is just what Calgary did. Less than two minutes after Iginla’s goal, Stephane Yelle forced a turnover behind the Tampa Bay net and flipped the puck off the crossbar and over Khabibulin’s left shoulder.

While Khabibulin looked mortal, Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff was flawless until NHL scoring champion Martin St. Louis beat him on a long power-play drive with 15:47 remaining. Former Washington Capital Chris Simon rounded out the scoring on a backhand flip with his team two men up with 20 seconds remaining.

History says the Lightning, who allowed just 1.8 goals a game in beating the New York Islanders, Montreal and Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference playoffs, are already in big trouble. Since the finals went to a best-of-seven format in 1939, 51 of the 65 teams that won Game 1 went on to capture the Cup. However, five of the eight teams that came back to take the title after losing the opener at home did so in the past 13 years.

“We don’t want to go down 0-2,” Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk said after his first Stanley Cup Finals game in his 22nd season. “It’s not the end of the world, but you can probably see it.”

What the Flames can see is the playoff record for road victories. At 9-2, they’re just one shy of the mark New Jersey set in winning the Cup in 1995 and 2000.

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