Better team won a bad Game 7 as Lightning douse Flames
Posted: Tuesday June 8, 2004 3:45AM; Updated: Tuesday June 8, 2004 3:49AM
Nik Khabibulin helped make sure two goals was enough offense for the Lightning.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
On Monday night, only those with an allegiance to the Lightning saw this game for anything but what it was -- a match devoid of much substance except the meaning. After all, one team would have the privilege of hoisting the Stanley Cup upon the conclusion of the proceedings, no matter how formless.
Maybe it was the poor ice conditions. Possibly it had to do with the fatigue borne of the arduous travel and playing schedule of Games 5 through 7. Or, could it be that the clock simply struck midnight on the Cinderella Flames? Most likely, this meeting of muck and mire was the culmination of all those elements.
That's not to say the Lightning didn't earn this prestigious title. They most certainly did. And they did it on the strength of their young stars making plays in the moment.
Conn Smythe winner Brad Richards innately got a power-play point shot through in the first that generated a generous rebound for Ruslan Fedotenko. Vincent Lecavalier put on a dazzling display of stick handling coming out of the corner in the second, finding Fedotenko in the medium slot, from where he launched a perfect wrist shot over the glove hand of Miikka Kiprusoff.
Offensively, that was pretty much it. A couple of individual efforts leading to Fedotenko goals, and the Lightning played as if they knew two goals were plenty.
In all, they managed only 15 shots on goal, yet still won it all. No wonder. The Flames flickered even more dimly on the attack, with captain Jarome Iginla held without a shot on goal for the entire outing.
As a team, Calgary could only muster 17 shots, and if not for a ridiculous penalty call halfway through the third that led to a Craig Conroy goal that sparked the Flames, reaching double digits seemed a long shot -- no pun intended.
With the score 2-1, the Lightning seemed spooked, and the Flames forced Nik Khabibulin to make several tough saves -- a testament to his concentration after facing so few chances for most of the evening.
Sometimes the hardest thing in sports is prevailing when those around you seem unsure of themselves. For most of the game, the Bolts played with determination and a sense of purpose, style points notwithstanding. But for those final frantic minutes, Khabibulin performed without compromise.
Ultimately, the Flames had little left to make this game a true test of anything more than wills. With their resolve intact, the Lightning won because their focus was undeniable and their depth of skill was superior. They won because they deserved to -- they were the better team.
To them, that's all that matters. The combination, though, just didn't make for a better game.
1. Ruslan Fedotenko: His two goals proved plenty in this offense-optional finale.
2. Vincent Lecavalier: His best game of the finals came at precisely the right moment.
3. Brad Richards: No forward played more and no player meant more to his team.
Darren Eliot, a former NHL goaltender, is a hockey analyst for SI.com.