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Nieminen ran the Lightning's Vincent Lecavalier into the boards from behind with just over four minutes to go in the game, earning a five-minute major and a game misconduct and destroying any chance Calgary had to tie the game. The Flames were short-handed for the remainder of the game and had no chance from that point on, allowing Richards' goal to stand up as the game-winner.
Calgary was the better team for the first half of the game, though. The Flames had more energy early despite trailing less than three minutes in, but the Lightning turned it up in the later stages of the game, which seems odd because their top three players -- Lecavalier, Richards and Martin St. Louis -- all played at least 8:41 in the first period. Yet it was Tampa Bay that had enough gas left in the tank when it counted.
Don't expect Game 5 to be any different than what we've seen so far in this series. The Flames are a junkyard dog that keeps fighting, and the Lightning will try to find a way to finally sustain some momentum. These teams have looked pretty evenly matched over the first four games, and neither goalie has been anything close to bad in the last two games. There is a fine line separating these teams, and this could be a seven-game thriller in the making.
The Lightning didn't play their best game of the playoffs, but playing an average game and winning is much better than playing a great game and losing. Brad Richards got the lone goal of the game on the exact play Tampa Bay wanted to set up on a 5-on-3 power play, taking a pass from Dave Andreychuk in a perfect position at the left circle and making a terrific shot up high on Calgary goalie Miikka Kiprusoff.
But the Tampa power play was not good after that and was very lucky the Flames didn't convert on any of several short-handed chances. Calgary won most of the battles from that point on, both the little ones along the boards and the big ones in front of the net.
And despite what the fans in the Saddledome thought, the officials were very good in this game. They let both teams play, and every penalty was warranted, especially the major/game-misconduct call against Ville Nieminen. He hit Vincent Lecavalier in a position that left Lecavalier no way to defend himself and drove Lecavalier's head into the glass, something that is going to earn that kind of call every time. Nieminen plays with an edge, which is a good thing up to a certain point, but that was a foolish, selfish penalty that went over the line and cost his team big-time.
We now have a two-day break between games, and it couldn't come at a better time for both teams. Tampa Bay can try to get Fedotenko and Kubina healthy, and Martin St. Louis should use the time to get away from the game for a day or so. St. Louis has admitted he's putting pressure on himself and holding the stick too tight, so this small break will be good for him. Calgary, meanwhile, can use the time to rest its workhorse defensemen. Robyn Regehr played more than 30 minutes in Game 4 and Andrew Ference was on the ice for more than 26 minutes, so they will have a chance to get their legs back before Game 5.
The Lightning said before the game that they needed to crowd the net, because even though they weren't scoring on shots along the ice, they noticed that Kiprusoff was giving up rebounds on those shots. Tampa felt it could get some chances in close in those situations and did end up getting a few, but Kiprusoff held the Lightning off. Expect that strategy to continue in Game 5, though.
Khabibulin was very alert in his net and very sharp in his movements. He played a nearly perfect game and got some favorable bounces, including a rolling puck that squirted over his stick, under his glove and off his left pad wide of the goal. He also let a couple shots fall out of his glove but was able to bat them away, and Khabibulin was in position when Brad Richards deflected a centering pass into his body while backchecking on an odd-man chance for Calgary.
But the save of the game was the stop Khabibulin made with his glove on a shot from the point as time wound down in the third period. His eyes were focused all night, and he was twitching like crazy in there, a sure sign he was in the zone.
Both goaltenders are absolutely on top of things right now, and we should see more of the same when the series resumes in Tampa on Thursday.