SI's Pierre McGuire breaks down the Lightning-Flames matchup and sees it going to the limit
Tampa Bay gets the job done with skill and speed. The Lightning creates a lot of odd-man rushes and manufactures chances off turnovers better than any other team in the league. Tampa Bay's second line of Brad Richards, Fredrik Modin and Cory Stillman can score as often as the first line of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Ruslan Fedotenko, so Calgary will have a hard time matching up. The Flames rely on their top line of Craig Conroy, Jarome Iginla and Martin G�linas to do the bulk of the scoring, and they hope that a speed line of Marcus Nilson, Shean Donovan and Ville Nieminen will chip in. Calgary creates most of its offensive chances with robust forechecking that can pin opposing defensemen to the back boards. Edge: Lightning
Calgary has one of the NHL's best young defenders in 24-year-old Robyn Regehr. He has great size (6'3", 225 pounds), range and puck-handling skills—as well as a very useful mean streak. Regehr can handle a lot of ice time, as can the Flames' other top blueliners, Andrew Ference, 25, and Jordan Leopold, 23. The strength of Calgary's defense is that it doesn't give any free passes physically. Tampa Bay uses Pavel Kubina and Darryl Sydor as its top tandem but relies on all defenders to execute in crucial situations. While the Lightning plays aggressively in the neutral zone, it tends to sag while defending in its own end and sometimes allows dangerous shots from the point. Edge: Flames
Nikolai Khabibulin of Tampa Bay and Miikka Kiprusoff of Calgary are acrobatic. They have superb glove hands and make big saves at key times. Kiprusoff is better at handling the puck, but that strength will largely be negated because Tampa Bay generates most of its chances off the rush rather than by moving the puck around the boards. Edge: Even
In the Eastern Conference finals the Lightning dominated the Philadelphia Flyers in this area, and it has a lopsided advantage over Calgary. The Flames can't afford to get into penalty trouble and will need their superb penalty killer, Stephane Yelle, to excel. Watch for Brad Richards to be explosive on the Lightning's power play. Edge: Lightning
Tampa Bay's John Tortorella coaches on sheer emotion and makes his feelings evident on the bench. Calgary's Darryl Sutter, who has also done an excellent job as general manager, shows his emotions to his players only behind closed doors. Tortorella has rid the Lightning franchise of its country-club atmosphere and established organizational control. His top associate, Craig Ramsay, is a terrific X's-and-O's guy, especially on special teams. Slight Edge: Lightning PREDICTION This series will have it all: big hits, creative offense, sharp goaltending and, adding to the fireworks, rabid fans. This could be the best finals in years. Lightning in seven.