Lightning 3, Flames 2
The Stanley Cup was inside the Pengrowth Saddledome. So were 19,221 championship-craving Calgary Flames fans. Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards and Nikolai Khabibulin were there, too, and they had plans of their own for Lord Stanley.
St. Louis banged in a rebound 33 seconds into the second overtime, Richards scored twice and Khabibulin turned away 31 shots to help the Lightning stave off elimination, 3-2, in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals, ensuring the shimmering trophy stayed packed away for two more days.
The series returns to Tampa for Game 7 on Monday.
The game-winning play began with Tim Taylor blasting a shot from the point and Richards redirecting it on goal. It concluded with St. Louis, who took oxygen to combat the effects of high altitude between periods, collecting the rebound and firing the puck high and past Calgary goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff (24 saves).
"I was just trying to put it on net," said St. Louis, who has four goals in these finals. "At that point and time, it's not the pretty goal that's going to win it. It wasn't a good angle. I just thought, 'Throw it on net [because] you never know.' "
Both of Richards's goals came on the power play. Chris Clark and Marcus Nilson tallied for the Flames, who were attempting to win their first championship since 1989, and Canada's first since Montreal hoisted the Cup in 1993. The Flames never led.
"I think it's a pretty good fit that we're going to a Game 7," Lightning Coach John Tortorella said. "It's a pretty big play by Marty [St. Louis]. Game 7s are a great experience. This is the opportunity of a lifetime for players. We're not going to tip-toe, we're going to dive in."
Khabibulin improved to 7-0 in the playoffs after a loss. And his team has now alternated wins and losses for a playoff-record 13 times. The Flames, meantime, fell to 6-6 at home in the playoffs.
Perhaps the most telling statistic involved Richards: The Lightning is 9-0 in the playoffs when he scores.
Taylor received an inspirational phone message from his longtime friend Ray Bourque, who helped led Colorado back from a three-games-to-two deficit to beat New Jersey in 2001, only the second time a team came back after losing Game 5 at home to win the Cup finals. The Lightning is hoping to become the third. (The 1964 Maple Leafs were the other team to do it.)
Taylor shared the message with his Tampa Bay teammates.
"For him to take the time out of his life and really care about what we're going through, it really reached us," St. Louis said of Bourque's call. "It means a lot. They have done it, so why can't we."
The win kept a longtime dream alive for Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk, who has played 22 seasons and 1,758 NHL games without winning a championship.
"I've dreamed about this situation, having one more chance to win a Stanley Cup," Andreychuk said.
The game almost didn't make it to overtime. On a Calgary power play late in the third period, Flames winger Martin Gelinas inadvertently redirected the puck toward the goal line with his skate. Khabibulin stopped the fluky chance with 6 minutes 48 seconds remaining. A television replay, however, appeared to show puck crossing the goal line before Khabibulin got to it.
"We thought we had the big the play when Gelinas cut in there," Calgary Coach Darryl Sutter said. "I looked at it. It has to be a conclusive play. You can't say that it was a goal."
The opening period ended scoreless for the first time this series. But wasn't for a lack of scoring opportunities. Once more, the goaltenders shone, following a pattern for the series.
The Lightning went on the power play early in the second period, and immediately began pressuring Kiprusoff. Richards eventually found the back of the net, firing the puck from the side of the goal. As it rocketed through the crease, Kiprusoff reached out with his stick, but the puck deflected off the goaltender's blocker and in at 4:17 to put the Lightning ahead 1-0.
Ville Nieminen, who returned from a one-game suspension for an illegal hit, helped the Flames tie the game about five minutes later. Nieminen's spinning pass snuck through the crease wound up on the stick of Clark, who banged the puck past Khabibulin before he had a chance to react.
Richards stuck again on the man advantage at 10:52 of the second to put the Lightning ahead, 2-1. Richards dug the puck out of a crowd along the boards, blowing past Nilson and proceeded toward the Calgary goal. He wristed a shot through the pads of Kiprusoff.
Nilson atoned for his weak attempt to stop Richards by tying the game at 2 at 17:49 of the second period. Tampa Bay defenseman Dan Boyle tried to knock down a high dump-in pass with his glove at the Lightning blueline. But the puck deflected right onto the stick of a rushing Oleg Saprykin. Saprykin then zipped a pass across the ice to Nilson, who one-timed it past Khabibulin.