Flames Creep Closer to the Cup
Saprykin's Goal Lifts Calgary in Overtime: Flames 3, Lightning 2
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Pos Staff Writer
Friday, June 4, 2004; Page D01
TAMPA, June 3 -- The Calgary Flames were throwing hard shots in on Tampa Bay goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin all night Thursday. He stopped 33 of the first 35. The 36th, coming off the stick of Oleg Saprykin with 5 minutes 20 seconds left in overtime, slipped through Khabibulin's pads and lifted the Flames to a 3-2 victory at the St. Pete Times Forum and put them one win away from a Stanley Cup championship.
The Flames, who were a long shot to make the playoffs, take a 3-2 series lead back to Calgary for Saturday's Game 6, where they can win their first title since 1989 and Canada's first since 1993.
Calgary captain Jarome Iginla, who took a game-high three shots in overtime and was without his helmet on the game's decisive play, started the key sequence with a shot on Khabibulin. The goaltender made the stop but couldn't corral the rebound. Saprykin, battling in front with Lightning defenseman Nolan Pratt, freed his stick long enough to put it on the puck and get it by Khabibulin.
"He deserved that goal," Iginla said of Saprykin, whose goal was his first in 18 playoff games. "He played so hard all night, was banging away all night, physical, skating and it was just so good to see him get that goal."
Said Saprykin: "It's a great feeling. Every guy battled so hard, every guy deserved it. It doesn't matter who scored the goal."
Martin Gelinas and Iginla tallied for the Flames in regulation. Martin St. Louis and Fredrik Modin, who tallied his first goal of the finals on the power play 39 seconds into the third period, scored for the Lightning. Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff was solid, making 26 saves.
"We played with a lot of composure and a lot of discipline," Calgary Coach Darryl Sutter said. "We didn't get frustrated when we felt, especially in the third period, that we could have scored a couple of goals. Our players never got frustrated with that."
The series' first overtime almost didn't happen. The Flames had a three-on-one with a little less than five minutes remaining but couldn't convert when Iginla fired wide of Khabibulin. Then St. Louis nearly won it for Tampa Bay with 1:46 left in regulation with a wraparound attempt that bounced on the goal line, but Kiprusoff reached back and pulled the puck underneath him.
Calgary won despite not having winger Ville Nieminen, a valuable two-way player, who was serving a one-game suspension for his illegal hit on Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier in the waning moments of Game 4.
Nieminen still managed to be the center of attention Thursday. One day after Sutter questioned the NHL's integrity, the coach refused to back down from his controversial comments, saying, "Whatever [NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman] says. . . . I told the truth. The truth hurts."
Sutter had implied the NHL showed a pro-U.S. bias by suspending Nieminen. He also intimated that the decision to suspend Nieminen was made in New York, where Bettman is based, and not in Toronto, where NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell is located. Bettman called Sutter's comments "ill-advised, inappropriate and inaccurate."
The action on the ice was just as heated.
Gelinas put Calgary ahead 1-0 only 2:13 into the game when he redirected Toni Lydman's slap shot from the point on the power play. Lydman had not played since the opening round because of a concussion.
Khabibulin quickly refocused. Once again, he was the reason Tampa Bay still had a shot, making save after spectacular save, including a brilliant pad stop on Iginla in the first period.
Kiprusoff was nearly as a good. His best save came late in the opening session on Modin, who fired low and hard from the slot but found Kiprusoff's glove waiting.
Kiprusoff wasn't able to turn away St. Louis with 33 seconds remaining in the first period. St. Louis stuffed the puck between Kiprusoff's pads to tie the game at 1.
The Flames took the first seven shots of the second, but it didn't matter as Khabibulin was there with a pad, blocker, glove or stick each time.
But even as well as Khabibulin played, he couldn't stop Iginla's perfectly placed wrist shot early in the second period. Iginla unleashed a wrist shot that rattled into the net off the post to put the Flames ahead 2-1 at 15:10. Iginla's league-leading 13th of playoffs was unassisted.
Modin's goal tied the score at 2 just 37 seconds into the third period, and six seconds into the Lightning's man advantage. Modin tapped in a backhanded pass from Brad Richards.
"You're not going to win a Game 5 in the finals playing 40 minutes the way we did tonight," Lightning Coach John Tortorella said. "It's going to come back and bite you."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company