Thursday, June 3, 2004
Flames winger answers call in overtime
By Lindsay Berra Special to ESPN.com
TAMPA, Fla. -- Overtime is all about unlikely heroes, and Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals was certainly no exception.
But perhaps there was a clue pointing to the eventual man-of-the-hour on the scoresheet. After two periods of hockey, Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla had taken three shots on goal. Lightning superstar Vincent Lecavalier had taken two. And leading the game with five shots on goal was Flames fourth-line winger Oleg Saprykin.
Never heard of him? Saprykin was Calgary's top pick, 11th overall, in the 1999 entry draft. He had 12 goals and 17 assists for 29 points in 69 games with the Flames last season. Saprykin's father Dmitri was the backup to legendary goaltender Vladislav Tretiak on the Russian Red Army team.
And after two periods, Saprykin was playing so well that Flames head coach Darryl Sutter had already allotted him more than 12 minutes of ice time, just one minute shy of his playoff average of 13:28.
Saprykin's opportunity for extra shifts was, initially, the result of Flames left winger Ville Nieminen's one-game suspension for his hit on Lecavalier in Game 4.
"Oleg knew he was going to play a lot," Sutter said.
Then, when Flames right winger Shean Donovan went down with what Sutter called a charley horse with two minutes left in the second period, Saprykin was called on for even more. He played both wings on almost every line as Sutter juggled his lines to compensate for the loss of his missing wingers.
Just under 15 minutes into overtime, Saprykin was battling in front of the net on the tail end of a long, and eventually helmet-less, shift by Iginla. Flames center Marcus Nilson slid a pass across the ice from the left faceoff dot to the right, where Iginla was waiting after a fray in front of the net that had knocked his helmet off his head. Iginla blasted a wrist shot that Lightning goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin saved but had trouble handling. Saprykin whacked away at the rebound and scored the winner on his sixth shot of the night right through Khabibulin's five-hole.
"Olie was banging away in there right in front of the net. He deserved that goal," said Iginla. "He played so hard all night."
Saprykin scored his last goal on April 17 against the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the playoffs, 18 games ago. It was just his third playoff goal and was easily the high point of the 23-year-old Russian's career.
"It's a great feeling," Saprykin said. "Jarome shot the puck and it was perfect. He saw me there and I just tried to get a rebound and I just put it in."
Things won't be that easy on Saturday night when the Flames and Lightning face off at the Saddledome in Calgary for the first elimination game of this Stanley Cup series.
But elimination games are good for unlikely heroes, too.
The Magazine's Lindsay Berra can be e-mailed at email@example.com.