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Saturday, May 29, 2004
Conroy sets poor Game 2 aside

By Sherry Skalko
ESPN.com

CALGARY, Alberta - If a player has one bad game over the course of 21, he deserves to be cut a little slack, right?

Not if that bad game was Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals. And not if you're Craig Conroy, the Calgary Flames' No. 1 center.

"I felt it was the worst game I played all playoffs, but that happens," Conroy said Saturday morning before Game 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. "There's been 21 games and you'd love to have a great one every night, but it didn't happen. I've got to be skating. I wasn't skating. I wasn't getting in on the forecheck and finishing checks. I was hoping someone else was going to do it. Tonight, I have to do it myself."

Calgary's fate doesn't rest only on Conroy's shoulders. The Flames all concede they weren't as aggressive or diligent in their 4-1 loss in Game 2 as they were in their 4-1 win in Game 1. But as the top center and one of only two natural ones in the lineup (second-line pivot Stephane Yelle is the other), Conroy's role in the game's outcome is greater. His performance has a direct impact on the effectiveness of his wingers -- Jarome Iginla and Martin Gelinas -- who rely on him to run the offense and get them the puck.

"If I can get myself going, then I can help Jarome in all different situations on the ice," Conroy added.

Iginla, as well as the rest of the Flames, needs Conroy to improve in the faceoff circle, as well. He was a respectable 15-for-29 (52 percent) overall and 10-for-13 in the defensive zone in Game 1. In Game 2, he plummeted to 7-for-26 (27 percent) and just 3-for-13 in the defensive zone.

Conroy attributed some of the disparity to the Lightning's home-ice advantage.

"They did a good job. They never put their stick down, so I don't plan on putting my stick down tonight," he said. "I'm going to come in swiping just like they were. That's a big advantage -- one guy is putting his stick down and the other guy is coming in with momentum. As long as the linesmen call it both ways, we'll be fine tonight."

During Games 1 and 2, Conroy and his linemates faced a unique challenge against the Lightning, who feel several of their lines have the defensive awareness to deal with the Flames' top unit. As a result, the Lightning deployed Vincent Lecavalier's line against Conroy's line, in anticipation of a scoring advantage, and left winger Dave Andreychuk against Conroy for a faceoff advantage.

"We don't worry too much about the other team, but we will change up the matchups from time to time," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "It's a situational thing."

The Lightning were able to dictate those matchups because they had the last line change during Games 1 and 2. As the home team in Games 3 and 4, the Flames will have that luxury.

However, don't expect Flames coach Darryl Sutter to be preoccupied with who is on the ice against whom. The Flames don't worry too much about the other team, either, and Sutter isn't going to have his top line sitting on the bench, waiting for particular matchups.

Plus, as Conroy said, the only difference between Games 1 and 2 was hard work. No need for major changes. No need for adjusting the X's and the O's.

"The bottom line is, my feet weren't moving. I wasn't getting to the forecheck, and that creates my game," he said. "I've got to get in quick, turn pucks over and then we start our cycling and different plays. It comes down to some nights it's just frustrating. You're telling yourself 'C'mon, Craig, c'mon. Let's go, let's go."

Will Conroy respond to his own encouragement in Game 3? Just like everyone else, he said, he wants to be the go-to guy. He didn't play that role until he was traded to the Flames in March 2001 from St. Louis, where he was predominantly a checker. The switch -- which included being placed on a line with Iginla -- improved Conroy's point totals and helped him become a member of Team USA's entrant in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.

"You want to be the biggest part of a team as possible. You want to contribute to wins and losses. That's what it's all about," he said. "They gave me an opportunity here, where others said 'Hey, this guy is going to be a career checker.' Now people look at me differently. That's something I've always wanted. It was a long time coming."

Sherry Skalko is the NHL editor for ESPN.com.