Saturday, May 29, 2004
Bolts can't sustain momentum
By Sherry Skalko ESPN.com
CALGARY, Alberta -- Win. Loss. Evens. Odds.
The Tampa Bay Lightning haven't put together back-to-back wins since they first met the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference finals. Fortunately, their losses in that series were in the even-numbered games. They haven't been so fortunate in the Stanley Cup finals.
After losing Game 3, 3-0, to the Calgary Flames, the Lightning must win back-to-back games in order to win the Stanley Cup.
If only it were that easy.
The Flames have lost back-to-back games only once in the playoffs and have eliminated their last two opponents -- the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks -- by back-to-back wins. While they seem to have a handle on what the dramatic shifts of intensity and physical play in this series are, the why escapes them.
"It's been a physical series, and whoever has won that area has won the game," Flames captain Jarome Iginla said. "It's probably going to continue. It's intense out there. It's about finding that edge."
But why is that edge so difficult to keep?
"It's funny, it shouldn't be difficult," Iginla added. "This is the Stanley Cup finals, but the desperation in the losing team is very hard to match. And that's what we've got to find a way to match now, because we know how we felt losing a game."
Tampa Bay defenseman Dan Boyle agreed.
"It seems that way, but it really shouldn't be, not at this point with three wins away from the Stanley Cup," he said. "You can't have any letdowns, and we had a huge letdown in the second period."
Ah, yes, the second period. Things were progressing nicely for the Lightning up until then. They had initiated their fair share of hits, they were skating, they were shooting, they were matching the Flames' intensity. Then the Zamboni came out.
"Just like the first game, I think everybody kind of waited for someone else to do something," Bolts center Brad Richards said. "Then, all of a sudden, you're down by two."
It wasn't quite all of a sudden, but it was close enough.
While killing a penalty to teammate Brad Lukowich, Richards forced a turnover and broke in unmolested on Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff. With momentum sitting on his stick, Richards thought he had Kiprusoff beaten. Instead, Kiprusoff tipped the shot high and wide.
"It was a great save," Richards said. "In my mind, it's probably the turning point. If I score that, it's a huge lift. Instead, they go down the ice 30 seconds later and score the first goal and the crowd is back in it."
The crowd was in it. The Flames were in it. The Lightning? Not so much.
Vincent Lecavalier tried to get the Lightning back in it three minutes later when he targeted a teammate with a pass up the slot from behind the net. Unfortunately, his high-risk play had a high reward for Flames winger Shean Donovan, who intercepted the pass and broke in alone on Nikolai Khabibulin. Lecavalier slunk back to the bench. The Flames went up 2-0.
"The good thing is we've done that a lot lately -- play a good game, play a bad game, play a good game, play a bad game -- for whatever reason," Richards said. "As far as how many times we've rebounded, it doesn't matter. This is where it counts. This next game is where the real rebounding is going to count."
Rebounding. By definition, it's to spring or bounce back after hitting or colliding with something, or it's to recover, as from depression or disappointment.
In the Lightning's case, it's both.
"I don't know if it's easy to do," said Bolts forward Fredrik Modin, who finished the game without a shot on goal. "We have to put this behind us. Obviously, we have to bring some of this stuff with us and go through it tomorrow. I thought at times we did do some good things. ... I thought the game tonight was similar to Game 1. We didn't take advantage of our chances. It's all about rebounding and getting back in the next one."
Pretty soon the Lightning are going to run out of next ones. With each passing game, the pressure mounts. And if the Flames are the first to put back-to-back wins together, it will become greater.
"It's tough," Iginla said. "We plan on doing it, but we know they'll be better. It's just part of the desperation with what's on the line."
Then again, they've got the odds on their side.
Sherry Skalko is the NHL editor for ESPN.com.