Fedotenko scores both Tampa goals

TAMPA, Fla. -- Three months ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning

wouldn't have believed this. Three days ago, the Calgary Flames

wouldn't have, either.

Believe it.

Fans in Tampa are ecstatic after Ruslan Fedotenko's second goal. Miikka Kiprusoff, not so much.
Fans in Tampa are ecstatic after Ruslan Fedotenko's second goal. Miikka Kiprusoff, not so much.

The Lightning, one of the worst teams in pro sports for most of

their 12 seasons, are the Stanley Cup champions. The still-young

franchise won it with a very old formula, with their stars

excelling in the biggest game of the season.

Ruslan Fedotenko scored twice, including the critical first goal

just as he did in the conference finals, and the resilient

Lightning held off the Flames 2-1 in Game 7 Monday night to

win their first Stanley Cup.

The Flames, threatening to become one of the most unexpected

champions in NHL history, were held to only seven shots in a dismal

first two periods before making a frantic late surge started by

Craig Conroy's power-play goal midway through the third.

"We just tried to get through it, and we found a way,"

Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "It's unbelievable. It's a

great feeling."

Now the question is how long the Lightning will rule. The NHL's

labor agreement runs out Sept. 15, and all signs point to a lengthy

lockout that will significantly delay or shut down the 2004-05


"We're going to walk forever together [as champions], no matter

what happens from now on," Martin St. Louis said.

The city will throw a parade at noon ET Wednesday to celebrate the Lightning winning the Cup.

Tortorella insisted his team would win only if his best players

outplayed Calgary's, and they did exactly that by winning the final

two games after Calgary went home for Game 6 with a 3-2 series


Fedotenko scored on goals created by Conn Smythe Award winner

Brad Richards and Vincent Lecavalier and goalie Nikolai Khabibulin

held off Calgary's late flurry while stopping 16 shots, including a

remarkable save on Jordan Leopold when the net appeared wide open.

While it was the familiar names who came through for Tampa Bay,

the Flames' Jarome Iginla all but disappeared in the final two

games after being the impact player of the finals until then. He

went the last six periods without a shot after scoring a

playoff-leading 13 goals.

"It's the toughest loss by a thousand times," said Iginla, who

couldn't deliver Canada's first Cup champion in its national sport

since the 1993 Canadiens. "It's a very good season and I'm so

proud of everybody but that hurts more than anything else I've been

a part of."

The Flames were greeted by about 400 fans upon their return home late Tuesday. Many stood in the cold for hours outside a private terminal awaiting the charter flight. One carried a sign that read, "Thanks for the memories."

Enforcer Kristof Oliwa had tears streaming down his face when he saw the fans. Rookie defenseman Mike Commodore waded into the crowd and signed autographs for more than a half hour, waving off offers of a police escort. A downtown rally is planned for Wednesday at Olympic Plaza.

Tampa Bay, an expansion franchise in 1992 and one of the

league's worst teams for much of the time since, joined the 2001

Avalanche as the only teams to overcome a 3-2 deficit in the finals

in 33 years.

Maybe it's only coincidence, but in each series a 22-season

veteran who had never won the Cup finally did so. Colorado's Ray

Bourque did it in 2001, and 40-year-old Lightning captain

Dave Andreychuk finally lifted the Stanley Cup after playing a record

1,758 games before Monday without winning it.

"It's awesome," Andreychuk said. "It took me 29 years [of

hockey] to get here, and I'm so proud of our guys because we got a

Game 7 at home because we worked hard all year long."

Khabibulin only faced 17 shots, but some of his lead-saving stops in the third period were stellar.
Khabibulin only faced 17 shots, but some of his lead-saving stops in the third period were stellar.

Tampa Bay didn't reach even the second round of the playoffs

until last season, then overcame a midseason slump this season

before peaking at the right time. After starting 7-0-1, they lost

seven of nine and were only 15-14-6-1 at Christmas time, when

Richards had only four goals.

Richards epitomized the turnaround; he finished with 26 goals

and 79 points, then had a record seven game-winning goals among his

12 postseason goals.

"It was an awful first half," Richards said. "It seemed like

all of our top players went in a slump. I thought the world was

falling apart. But I went home for Christmas for the first time in

six or seven years ... it was only for 24 hours, but it made me

realize how fortunate I am to be in the NHL."

Now, Lightning owner Bill Davidson can pull off a previously

unseen single-season sweep of the NBA and NHL titles. His Detroit

Pistons lead the Lakers 1-0 in the NBA Finals.

The Flames were going for a record 11th road victory in 14

playoff games and their third in Tampa, only to find out home ice

does matter -- just as it usually does in Game 7. Home teams are

11-2 in finals Game 7s and 10-1 since 1950, with only the 1971

Montreal Canadiens winning on the road in the last 54 years.

Again, there's no place like home ice in Game 7 of the Stanley

Cup finals. And the Stanley Cup still can't find its way back home

to Canada, which has had just two Cup winners in 15 seasons.

"This is probably the lowest it's going to get," Conroy said.

"It's just a frustrating thing when this team works so hard. We

felt like we deserve better."

No doubt the Flames will relive for years the missed opportunity

in Game 6, when the Stanley Cup was in their building and an entire

city was preparing to blow its lid off to celebrate -- until St. Louis scored the winning goal 33 seconds into the second overtime.

"That's the most disappointing thing," Conroy said. "We had

two chances, one at home, and we didn't get it done."

The team scoring first won every game in the series, so Tampa

Bay got a huge confidence boost when Fedotenko scored on a power

play 13:31 into the first -- much like he scored the go-ahead goal

in a 2-1 victory over Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference


Richards' shot from the point was kicked away by

Miikka Kiprusoff to Fedotenko in the slot, and he lined a shot past the

goalie, who stopped 13 of 15 shots.

Robyn Regehr, Calgary's most dependable defenseman, played

despite apparently injuring an ankle or foot in Game 6 and was on

the ice for Fedotenko's goal. Flames RW Shean Donovan missed his

second straight game with a leg injury as the long, physical series

wore on the Flames more than on Tampa Bay, which played one game

without an injured Fedotenko and defenseman Pavel Kubina.

"In the end, they just had more legs than we did. We were

beaten by a great team," Flames coach Darryl Sutter said. "I

thought our guys played great."

Fedotenko's second goal of the game and third of the finals was

created by a dazzling bit of stickhandling by Lecavalier, who

hadn't figured in any scoring since Game 2. Lecavalier took

Cory Stillman's pass in the left corner, spun around to shed

Steve Montador and another defender and put a perfect pass on Fedotenko's

stick in the slot with about 5½ minutes left in the second period.

Game notes:

The Lightning missed the playoffs for six straight seasons

before making them last season, when Stanley Cup champion New

Jersey eliminated them in the conference semifinals. ... The Flames

would have been the first Stanley Cup champion with a losing home

record (5-7). ... The 1995 Devils remain the only team to win the

Cup without having home-ice advantage in a four-round playoffs.

Sixth-seeded Calgary could have been the second. The Flames also

failed to become the first team to eliminate four division

champions. ... The team scoring first won each of Calgary's last 16

games. ... Tampa Bay is 14-2 when scoring first. ... The Flames

tied a record by playing their 26th playoff game. ... Khabibulin is

the first Russian-born goalie to win the Cup. ... The Lightning

also ended their record 13-game streak of alternating winning and