Tampa Bay Evens Series at 2 Each
Lightning 1, Flames 0
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 1, 2004; Page D03
CALGARY, Alberta, May 31 -- It was hard to imagine the Tampa Bay Lightning stood much chance of getting a win at ear-piercing Pengrowth Saddledome without two players responsible for their surprising postseason run.
But Tampa Bay overcame the odds -- winger Ruslan Fedotenko and defenseman Pavel Kubina sat out with injuries -- thanks to Brad Richards's power-play goal and yet another splendid performance by goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who turned away the Calgary Flames over and again in Tampa Bay's 1-0 victory before a rowdy crowd of 19,221 red-clad fans Monday in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals.
The best-of-seven series will return to Tampa on Thursday for Game 5 tied at two. The Lightning hasn't lost two games in a row this postseason.
Khabibulin stopped all 29 shots he faced, including 12 in the third period as Calgary pressed for the tying score, to secure his fifth shutout of the playoffs.
"He did a great job, especially when we were down a man," Lightning defenseman Jassen Cullimore said of Khabibulin. "That's exactly what we needed, big saves at critical moments."
Calgary's odds of tying the score grew longer late when winger Ville Nieminen was assessed a five-minute major penalty for boarding with 4 minutes 13 seconds remaining after he slammed Vincent Lecavalier into the side boards. Lecavalier was chasing the puck when he was blindsided by Nieminen, who may face further disciplinary action from the NHL. Lecavalier did not return, perhaps adding to Tampa Bay's injury woes.
"It was called a five-minute penalty because of the reaction of the player," Calgary Coach Darryl Sutter said. "It was a two-minute penalty."
The Lightning hasn't faced injuries to key players all postseason. But Monday it was forced to do without Fedotenko, who had been shoved face first into the boards by Calgary defenseman Robyn Regehr late in the third period of Saturday's game. Fedotenko (tied for the team lead with 10 goals, four on the power play) was scratched hours before faceoff with an undisclosed injury, leaving a gaping hole on Tampa Bay's top line alongside Martin St. Louis and Lecavalier.
Kubina, the Lightning's best defenseman, was also a surprise scratch. He had been on the receiving end of a hard hit by Calgary's Martin Gelinas in the opening minutes of Game 3. Kubina had spent the majority of his shifts against Jarome Iginla's line. Cullimore replaced Kubina alongside Darryl Sydor.
"I thought our guys who came in because of the injuries really did a great job," said Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk, referring to Ben Clymer and Martin Cibak. "They've been champing at the bit."
One day after Lightning Coach John Tortorella publicly challenged his top line forwards. He implored Lecavalier, St. Louis, Cory Stillman, Fredrik Modin and Richards to "raise their game."
They did just that early on.
Richards converted a five-on-three power play 2:48 into the game to put the Lightning ahead 1-0. Richards ripped a slap shot from the top of the right circle, beating Miikka Kiprusoff's glove hand. Andreychuk set up the play by luring the Calgary defenseman below the goal line, then backhanding a pass to Richards, whose seventh-game winning goal set an NHL playoff record. The Lightning is 8-0 when Richards has tallied in the playoffs.
The two-man advantage was the result of Calgary winger Chris Clark's poor judgment. Flames defenseman Mike Commodore was already headed off for holding when Clark cross- checked Lightning defenseman Nolan Pratt on the helmet.
"I have no control over whether it's the game-winner or not, but it was a huge goal to get," Richards said.
Khabibulin was key to thwarting two Calgary power plays in the first period. He was also assisted by a Calgary team that misfired often. Gelinas shot three feet wide of Khabibulin on a two-on-one in the first period, and Jordan Leopold, leading a three-on-two, missed badly on a wide-open slap shot from the slot midway through the second.
"They got the first goal," Sutter said. "And they protected it the way we do. . . . In the second period we had chances, but missed the net. There are two I can think of off the top of my head."
Calgary carried the play in the third period as the Lightning attempted to protect its lead. The crowd booed an apparent non-call late in the game, when Calgary's Craig Conroy was hooked down by Pratt as he raced to the net. Khabibulin was the difference.
"We found a way to get it done, the skilled guys, the new guys, we found a way," Tortorella said.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company