-- Every game for Calgary's Chris Simon is a delicate balancing act between using his 6-foot-3, 232-pound frame like a battering ram, his fists like a heavyweight boxer and his stick like a deft goal scorer.

In these Stanley Cup finals, the former Washington Capital has masterfully performed all three duties -- sometimes in the same period.

"He's a dominating figure out there, and obviously the excitement he brings to the game has been a big plus for us," Calgary defenseman Andrew Ference said Sunday after an optional practice at Pengrowth Saddledome. "He's excited to be a part of this team and a part of this run."

Simon's teammates agree that his presence on the ice and steady leadership in the dressing room are two big reasons the Flames enter Game 4 here Monday two victories from claiming the Stanley Cup.

Playing for a second championship seemed out of the question for Simon three months ago, when he was on a New York Rangers' team speeding toward oblivion. But then he was dealt to Calgary on March 6, rescued by Flames General Manager-Coach Darryl Sutter, who felt the versatile forward could bolster his team's toughness and, perhaps, score a few goals.

"It's a huge change," Simon said after Saturday's 3-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 3. "Unfortunately, things weren't going well in New York. I was so glad to get an opportunity to come to a team that had a chance to get into the playoffs. I am just so happy to get a chance to play in the finals again and have a chance to win the Stanley Cup again."

Simon, 32, has rewarded the Flames -- his fifth NHL team -- by playing his best hockey in years. Since returning from a suspected knee injury that kept him out of most of the first two rounds, he's been one of the Flames' best players in the finals. He's delivered punches to Tampa Bay winger Chris Dingman's face and set the tone by dropping board-rattling body checks on Tampa Bay's skilled forwards Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards. And he even scored the game-winning goal Saturday.

Simon put the Flames ahead 1-0 with a power-play goal midway through the second period, and was subsequently promoted to the Flames' top line where he played alongside Jarome Iginla and Marcus Nilson. After scoring, Simon celebrated by skating toward the glass, bounding into the air and slamming into the corner boards.

"I was just so excited," said Simon, who has been sporting a Mohawk recently. "I guess my type of celebration is banging into something."

Simon learned to blend his multiple talents in Washington, where he was a vital cog of the team that reached the Stanley Cup finals in 1998. He was traded to Chicago 10 games into the 2002-2003 season, his seventh with the Capitals. While in Washington, Simon, who often struggled with shoulder injuries, played on a line with Craig Berube and Dale Hunter (he joked recently that the trio left their sticks on the bench). He also played with offensive wizard Adam Oates in 1999-2000, when he scored a career-best 29 goals.

"He has scored a lot of goals in his career," Ference said. "He's not a guy who's going to dangle five guys out there. He scores goals with his assets, and that's his size and determination to go to the net."

Simon compiled 250 penalty minutes during the regular season (second most in the NHL) and leads the league in the postseason with 72. His most revealing statistic, however, are the five playoff goals, which has him tied with three other Flames for the third most on the team, despite playing in only 12 of the team's 22 games because of injury.

"He plays tough and he plays hard and he never quits," Iginla said."He's scored a lot of big goals already this playoffs."

Another trait that made Simon attractive to the Flames was his penchant for playing on winners. Prior to reaching the finals with Washington, he won a Cup in Colorado in 1996, although he didn't play a prominent role for the Avalanche after the third round that season.

Simon admits he's come a long way for a player from tiny Wawa, Ontario, and had to overcome a fondness for beer and bar room brawls early in his hockey career.

"Winning is what it's all about now," Simon said. "I will do whatever I have to do to win."

Notes: Tampa Bay winger Ruslan Fedotenko, who tumbled head first into the end boards during the third period Saturday and did not return, is day-to-day, Lightning Coach John Tortorella said. Fedotenko (10 goals, one assist) was chasing the puck when he was shoved off balance by Calgary defenseman Robyn Regehr.

CHRIS SIMON

Former Capital has five goals in 12 postseason games.