Game 3 was like a chess match, a challenge to see which team would be most patient in waiting for a break that could change the game, and it was Calgary that got it. Chris Simon's second effort in banging home a power play goal that opened the scoring was all Calgary needed. Tampa Bay was in catch-up mode from that point on and it didn't take long for the Lightning to start looking fatigued.
The long travel day and high altitude in Calgary may have had something to do with that, but once the Flames got the lead, they let the puck do the work. It's much easier to dump the puck out of the zone and down the ice than to be creative while looking to create plays and Calgary used that to its advantage after Simon's goal. From that point on, the Flames toyed with Tampa.
The Flames also flipped the script from Game 2 and upped the ante on the Lightning by raising the level of their physical play. Jarome Iginla started it by fighting Tampa's Vincent Lecavalier and was the best player on the ice all night, making a beautiful dash down the boards to set up Simon's goal and also tallying a goal himself.
The fight was interesting because most felt it was a good sign for the Lightning for one of their offensive leaders to step up like that, but after the bout Iginla came alive and Lecavalier seemed to disappear. Ultimately, the difference in the game was the play of Iginla for Calgary versus that of Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis for Tampa. The Flames did a great job on the Lightning's top threats. They were invisible for most of the night.
People are going to be asking me until Game 4 starts about the fight between Jarome Iginla and Vincent Lecavalier or the shutout posted by Calgary goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, but this game was won with one series of events in the second period.
Tampa Bay's Brad Richards had a shorthanded chance just after the midway point of the second period but was stopped by Kiprusoff, allowing the Flames to move the puck back to the other end of the ice and ultimately score a goal on the very same power play opportunity. If the Lightning had scored there they likely would have won the game because Calgary would have been just as deflated after a shorthanded goal as Tampa was after giving up the power play goal. The Flames would have been the ones playing from behind and the tone of the game would have been totally different.
And while the first period saw very few shots -- seven combined for the two teams -- and ended without a goal, it was the best period played in the Stanley Cup finals in recent years. The intensity was just incredible. There were clean hits all over the ice, players were in each other's faces and Lecavalier and Iginla both sent messages to their teammates.
Iginla got his team and the crowd fired up, while Lecavalier stood up for himself and tried to show that his team was not going to be pushed around. Courage is doing something when you know the result is going to be bad, and Lecavalier showed plenty of courage there. He went toe-to-toe with a tough player and made a statement.
That does not fall into the same category as the gratuitous violence that has no place in hockey. Both players were trying do deliver a message, plain and simple. You can bet Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella is going to use that to motivate the rest of his players as this series continues. His team also played well at times, so Tortorella will continue to stress that and drive home the fact that one save -- Kiprusoff on Richards -- was the difference. He will try to drive home the point to his players that they were one shot away from controlling and possibly winning this game.
Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff looked comfortable in his net in Game 3. There was little traffic in front of him and he was very calm with his movement in the crease. When Kiprusoff plays upright it's a sign that he is fatigued or having trouble tracking the puck, but in Game 3 he seemed fresh, low in his stance and powerful in his movements.
He faced only 21 shots but was outstanding when he had to be, especially in the second period when he made a good glove save on Fredrik Modin and stopped Brad Richards with the knob of his stick on the shorthanded chance that turned the game in Calgary's favor. Kiprusoff once again displayed the ability to turn his game up a notch at the right times.
No blame whatsoever should be placed on Tampa Bay goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin for his team's loss. His teammates displayed a lack of urgency in going after loose pucks, and Chris Simon's power play goal came after a couple of blocked shots in front that had the Lightning defensemen out of position. It comes down to the fact that Khabibulin's teammates did not fight hard enough in front of him. He may change one or two small things heading into Game 4, but what happened in Game 3 was definitely not his fault.