The board-rattling body checks, the three cross-continent flights and the thin mountain air had taken quite a toll on diminutive Tampa Bay Lightning winger Martin St. Louis late in Saturday's Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals.
By the end of the first overtime session, he didn't appear to be skating so much as cross-country skiing -- uphill.
But the fatigue didn't manage to sap his goal-scoring instincts. When Tim Taylor's blast from the point popped off the pads of Calgary goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff just seconds into double overtime, the 5-foot-7, 170-pound St. Louis crashed the net and buried it, lifting Tampa Bay to a 3-2 victory and forcing the series back to the St. Pete Times Forum on Monday for a decisive Game 7 for the second straight season.
"I was very tired," St. Louis said after Sunday's brisk practice in Tampa. "That was the most important goal I've scored. I've scored some nice ones, but that was the most meaningful. . . . It was a battle. I tried to rest between periods, recoup. There's no time to be tired" Monday.
The NHL's regular season scoring champion (94 points) and a nominee for the Hart Trophy, St. Louis was so winded he breathed air from oxygen tanks between overtime periods.
St. Louis's stunning score -- his fourth in these finals -- sent his former team to a deflating defeat, which came in front of 19,221 Cup-crazed Calgary fans at the Pengrowth Saddledome and tens of thousands of their faithful supporters who crammed along the "Red Mile" downtown. They have waited 15 years to celebrate Calgary's first NHL championship, and Canada's first in 11.
The live broadcast on CBC showed scenes inside bars from Newfoundland to British Columbia, jam-packed with fans watching on television. Calgary was quite a contrast to Tampa, where one would be hard-pressed to know a Stanley Cup-deciding game would be in 24 hours.
Now, Calgary fans hope the Flames will avoid becoming just the second team in 33 years to lose the Cup after taking a 3-2 series lead. (Colorado rallied against New Jersey in 2001.) They also hope St. Louis doesn't haunt them for a second straight game.
"In the playoffs, when you have the type of reputation Marty has, he's going to get special attention, teams are going to try to shut him down," Lightning Coach John Tortorella said. "Marty was shut down for most of the game but came back to score the big goal. Big-game players just don't give into that and find a way to make a play. That's what the playoffs are all about: big players making big plays."
One day after St. Louis's overtime strike, Canada was still abuzz about the goal that wasn't.
With about seven minutes remaining in regulation, and Calgary on the power play, Flames winger Martin Gelinas crashed the net. He inadvertently redirected the puck toward the goal line with his skate. Tampa Bay goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin kicked his right pad out just in time to stop it. But television replays cast doubt: One angle appeared to show the puck crossing the goal line, just as Khabibulin's pad got there.
"We reviewed a number of camera angles . . . and only one showed the puck," Colin Campbell, the NHL executive vice president and director of hockey operations, said in a statement. "From that angle, it was inconclusive whether the puck crossed the goal line."
Calgary fans and media saw it differently.
The boldfaced headline on the front page of the Calgary Herald asked, "Did the puck go in? Debate Flares over Flames' potential Cup winning goal." The front of the Calgary Sun exclaimed, "That Close!" Both papers contained pictures of what appeared to be enraged fans watching the game on televisions around the city.
St. Louis and his teammates didn't agree.
"That was for the league to decide if it went over the line," St. Louis said. Gelinas "had two things against him. It wasn't conclusive, and he put it off his skate."
Said Brad Richards: "I don't think they are trying not to let in a goal."
Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk will have his first -- and perhaps last -- chance to hoist the Stanley Cup at age 40, after 22 NHL seasons and 1,758 games, more than any player who has never won a championship.
"Of course we'd love to help him get the Cup," St. Louis said.
"But there are 20 other guys who really want the Cup, too. You never know when you're going to be back at this level."