Sunday, May 23, 2004 Updated: May 26, 8:14 PM ET
Bolts must work for better bounces
By EJ Hradek ESPN The Magazine
TAMPA, Fla. -- Sometimes, after all the hype and all the analysis, a hockey game comes down to good bounces and bad bounces. There's really no explanation for either, other than to say you work to get the good ones.
The Calgary Flames got a bunch of good (and timely) bounces in their 4-1 Game 1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at the St. Pete Times Forum on Tuesday.
The good fortune arrived early for the visiting Flames, who improved to 9-2 on the road during this postseason. Just three minutes into the first period, Flames defenseman Andrew Ference sent a blueline shot toward the Lightning net. The puck caromed through the crowd, taking one final bounce off the right skate of Martin Gelinas before slowly trickling over the goal line on the stick side of surprised Bolts goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.
Both Flames center Craig Conroy and Lightning coach John Tortorella called it a "fluky goal."
Yeah, it was a lucky goal, but three things should be considered. First, Conroy beat Lightning forward Dave Andreychuk on the draw. Second, Ference -- who played a game-high 27:02 -- made a strong play walking the puck across the blue line on his forehand, looking for a lane to get the puck to the net. And, finally, Gelinas was more than willing to crash the slot area, putting himself in the right place at the right time.
Late in the second period, the lady luck again smiled on the Flames. With Ference sitting in the box, Tampa was poised to tie the game when Andreychuk slid a pass to a wide-open Fredrik Modin in the slot. At just the wrong instant, though, the puck skipped over Modin's stick, going almost magnetically to Flames star right winger Jarome Iginla.
"It was bouncing a little bit as it came to me," said Modin, sporting a shiner under his left eye. "I think it hit my stick, then jumped over and went past me."
Iginla pounced on the loose biscuit and raced toward Khabibulin. Iginla tried Khabibulin's glove side, but the Russian-born goalie got a piece of the shot. The puck deflected high into the air and landed behind the net to Khabibulin's right -- right back to Iginla. Unfortunately, Modin, who was chasing Iginla, didn't read the rebound and skated to the opposite side of the net. Unchecked, Iginla quickly regained the puck and slide it past the Bolts' scrambling netminder.
"I think that's the turning point of the game," Tortorella said. "We have a chance to make it 1-1 and it goes the other way and into our net."
Again, Conroy was in agreement with the opposing coach.
"That was a huge turning point," said Conroy, recently selected to Team USA's World Cup entry. "We got a good bounce on that play."
Conroy added one other fact.
"Iggy was really persistent," Conroy said. "He didn't give up on the play after he was stopped on the first shot. He stayed with it and made a great play."
Those good bounces helped the Flames in Game 1, but they worked to make them happen. In Game 2, the Lightning will have to do more of the little things to make the puck bounce for them.
Hot and humid weather combined with building availability issues combined to create a not-so-surprising result: bad ice.
"It was awful," said Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle. "It's not an excuse because both teams have to deal with it. But it's definitely a factor in the game."
Most anyone asked, in both dressing rooms, felt the same.
"It was a lot worse tonight than it has been for our last couple of games," said Tampa D-man Cory Sarich. "It was especially tough late in the periods."
"As the period goes on," added Flames coach Darryl Sutter, "it's really tough. We had one power play late in the first period and we couldn't do anything with the puck. You have to deal with it, but you wish it was better."
It probably won't be much better in Game 2. The forecast calls for more heat and humidity. And with another graduation ceremony on Wednesday (there was one on Monday, as well) the ice won't be able to set and harden.
Getting caught in the zone
The Flames don't want to cough up turnovers in their own end. So, in Game 1, they were willing to flip the puck into the neutral zone and engage the Lightning defensemen in footraces for the loose puck.
Late in the second period, Flames center Stephane Yelle chased Boyle back into the Lightning zone. Yelle pressured Boyle into a turnover, came out from behind the net, faked Khabibulin to one knee and wristed the puck just under the crossbar to give the Flames a 3-0 lead.
"I knew I had a little extra time, so I tried to get the puck upstairs," Yelle said. "It just worked out."
Not surprisingly, Tortorella used the defensive pair of Pavel Kubina and Darryl Sydor against Iginla. The duo didn't have too much success in Game 1. Iginla had a goal on four shots and drew a penalty from Kubina.
Don't expect a switch in Game 2, however. The Lightning don't have another pair that can match Iginla's combination of power and speed. They dressed seven defensemen in Game 1, following a similar strategy as they used in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Flyers.
While Tortorella won't commit to his plans for Game 2, he might want to go back to six defensemen and get fourth line center Eric Perrin back into the lineup. Perrin, provided a nice spark in a supporting role for the first 13 games of the postseason, before being a healthy scratch for the club's last four games.
The Flames were dangerous even when they had a man in the box. Iginla netted a short-handed goal and had two other good short-handed scoring chances. Flames right winger Chris Clark also had a couple of good scoring chances on the penalty kill. In both cases, Khabibulin was forced to make a good save.
Tortorella thought the Flames' shorthanded offense was a result of his own team's sloppy execution.
"When our power play is going, we're holding onto the puck," Tortorella explained. "I thought we were a little skittish with it tonight. We were throwing it away and didn't really get it into a setup."
He feels his team will be better in Game 2.
"We'll get some of those problems straightened out," Tortorella said. "I think we'll have a little more simple approach. That will help."
EJ Hradek covers hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com. Also, click here to send EJ a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.