TAMPA, Fla. -- Three months ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning
wouldn't have believed this. Three days ago, the Calgary Flames
wouldn't have, either.
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
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
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."
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.
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