Monday, May 31, 2004
Bolts keep cool as injuries mount
By Lindsay Berra Special to ESPN.com
CALGARY, Alberta -- The high-flying, wide-open hockey expected from the Calgary Flames and the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup finals has been anything but. As a matter of fact, it's been the opposite. It's been chippy. It's been physical. And some of it has been downright dirty.
Just under two minutes into Game 4, two Flames were sent off for penalties -- Chris Clark for crosschecking and Mike Commodore for holding. The Lightning immediately took advantage of the Flames' overzealousness and scored on the ensuing power play to take a 1-0 lead that would hold for the rest of the game.
It didn't hurt that the Lightning finished the last four minutes of the game -- a time when the Flames would be scrambling for the tying goal -- on a power play resulting from Flames left winger Ville Nieminen's vicious hit from behind on Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier. Nieminen received a five-minute boarding major and a 10-minute game misconduct, much to the vehement objections of the Flames.
"It was definitely a penalty," admitted Flames coach Darryl Sutter. "It's called a five-minute penalty because they react to the player going down. It's a two-minute penalty."
The Lightning players waited until after the game to react. Lecavalier's face was smashed into the boards on the Nieminen hit. Lecavalier's helmet came off, he was slow to get up, and when he did, blood was visible on the side of his face.
"It's a dirty hit," said Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle. "Everyone knows that hockey is chippy and tough and it's a physical game, and everyone respects that. But hits from behind can seriously hurt somebody. Everything from behind has no place in hockey. Hopefully the league will take a good look at it and come back with the right decision."
The Lightning had already received a healthy dose of hitting from the Flames in Game 3. Just 21 seconds into that game, Flames left winger Martin Gelinas left his feet to administer a flying elbow to the upper body of Lightning defenseman Pavel Kubina. Gelinas was given a two-minute minor on the play. Kubina played the rest of the game, but missed Game 4 with an undisclosed injury.
Later in Game 3, the Lightning lost their top playoff goal scorer, Ruslan Fedotenko, after Flames defenseman Robyn Regehr rode him into the boards in the third period. After several minutes on the ice, Fedotenko was helped to his feet. He had a laceration and visible swelling under his right eye and did not play in Game 4. He is suspected to have a concussion.
"We talked about it. If they want to take bad penalties, the best way to get back at them is to score on the power play," said Tampa left winger Chris Dingman. "A big part of toughness is skating away, taking a hit and keeping going and not retaliating. I think you look at what the reward is if you don't retaliate. You win, and you get your name on the Stanley Cup. Stupid penalties don't help you any."
That's a lesson the Lightning learned in the early rounds of the playoffs against the Islanders, Canadiens and Flyers. Tampa's power play is operating at a whopping 19 percent in the playoffs and has been a large part of their success. Neutralizing it by ending up in the penalty box themselves isn't a recommended course of action.
"We put ourselves in some bad situations against those teams in the early rounds by reacting to stuff, letting our focus and our guard down and allowing teams to capitalize on our mistakes on their power play," said Lightning defenseman Brad Lukowich. "Now we know that we're going to have to take a few shots to the head, but you have to take it. Turning the other cheek shows a lot of character. It takes a pretty big man to walk away."
For the Lightning, walking away will seem a lot easier if they happen to be carrying a big silver cup.
The Magazine's Lindsay Berra can be e-mailed at email@example.com.