Flames 4, Lightning 1
Jarome Iginla embodies the very quality that has brought the Calgary Flames to these Stanley Cup finals. Tuesday night, with the opening game still very much in the balance, he authored another chapter of determination to his growing legend.
Iginla followed his own missed breakaway attempt to score a game-turning shorthanded goal that sparked Calgary to a 4-1 win. The goal put the Flames up 2-0 midway through the second period and left a once-frenzied crowd at the St. Pete Times Forum in stunned silence.
"The shorthanded goal was the difference in the game for us," Calgary Coach Darryl Sutter said of Iginla's play. "That was a huge goal. That was about second effort. [Iginla] had everything going."
Calgary's win also cost the Lightning home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven series.
Martin Gelinas, Stephane Yelle and Chris Simon also scored for the Flames, who came into these playoffs as just the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. And Calgary goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff out-dueled Tampa Bay's Nikolai Khabibulin (15 saves), who had a rare off night after sparkling through the first three rounds of the playoffs.
It didn't take long for Iginla to show Tampa Bay's fans why he is a candidate to win the Hart Trophy, which is given to the league's MVP.
The key sequence ended with Iginla beating Khabibulin at 15:21 of the second period. The play began in Tampa Bay's end as the Lightning attempted to set up their vaunted power play. But when the puck bounced over of the stick of Lightning winger Fredrik Modin, Iginla jumped on it, pushed it out in front of him, leaving Modin far behind on a clean breakaway. He skated in alone on Khabibulin and unleashed a wicked wrist shot. Khabibulin made a spectacular glove save, but lost track of the rebound. It trickled to the side of the net, where Iginla was waiting and poke in his league-best 11th playoff goal, which turned out to be the game-winner.
"It was great to see it go in," said Iginla, Calgary's captain. "It makes everyone feel great to get a shorthanded goal. I was trying to go top corner, and Khabibulin made a great save. I stopped because I thought it would roll in. It was nice to get a second chance."
Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk said: "Nikolai made a pretty good save. But [Iginla] made a pretty good play. It was tough to bounce back from."
Gelinas scored a fluky goal 3:02 into the game to put the Flames ahead 1-0. Craig Conroy's wrister from the point -- his team's first shot of the game -- deflected off Gelinas's leg and past Khabibulin.
Kiprusoff preserved Calgary's 1-0 first period edge by making 10 saves, including three key stops late. The Flames' goaltender thwarted Vincent Lecavalier's wrist shot from the slot, stoned Brad Richards on a drive to the net moments later, then stuffed Tim Taylor's attempt from point blank range in the closing seconds of the period.
"When he sees the shot he's going to make the save," Gelinas said of Kiprusoff, who had 23 saves. "That gives us a lot of confidence."
By late in the second period, it was Calgary that was applying the pressure. Khabibulin eventually crumbled under it.
Less than three minutes after Iginla's score, Yelle skated the puck out from behind the net and placed his shot just underneath the cross bar to put the Flames ahead 3-0. Khabibulin appeared to react late.
Tampa Bay's energetic winger Martin St. Louis, who was released by the Flames three years ago, knocked in a rebound 4:13 into the third period on the power play. It cut the Lightning's deficit to 3-1.
Simon scored on the power play in the final seconds to account for the final margin.
Calgary needs three more victories to win its first Stanley Cup since 1989 and become the first Canadian team since Montreal claimed the championship in 1993. The numbers are in the Flames' favor: The Game 1 winner has gone on to win the series 78.5 percent of the time since the league adopted the best-of-seven format in 1939.