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Friday, June 4, 2004
Bolts coach expects a Game 7 news services

CALGARY, Alberta -- Calgary is revving up to enjoy one of the most unlikely Stanley Cup championships in NHL history, one some Flames fans probably thought they'd never see but now might be only hours away.

There is talk 100,000 will jam 17th Ave., known as the Red Mile in the Flames' honor, to celebrate a Cup-clinching victory in Game 6 against Tampa Bay on Saturday night.

Meanwhile, newspaper headlines declare Jarome Iginla is virtually certain to be the playoffs MVP once Calgary wins its first Cup since 1989, completing an improbable run for the sixth seed in the Western Conference.

"I think we're all pretty excited," Iginla said. "It's one win away. But there's so much work to be done and we're not going to get ahead of ourselves. This is too close."

Even so, this has been Iginla's series ... and his playoffs. He leads all playoff scorers with 13 goals and is tied for the points lead with 24. As Flames center Craig Conroy said after Thursday's OT win in Tampa: "He's the best player in the world."

ESPN's hockey analyst, Barry Melrose, was equally effusive in his praise for Iginla.

"Iginla just continues to get better as the playoffs grind on," Melrose wrote after Game 5. "The bigger the moment, the more important the situation, the more he thrives. He's the best leader in hockey right now and his name should be up there with guys like Mark Messier and Steve Yzerman. Iginla will tell you there are 19 other guys in the dressing room getting the job done, but those 19 guys will tell you Iginla is the one who straps the team on his back and carries it whenever he needs to."

Yet, Iginla and the Flames aren't expecting to just be given the Cup on Saturday. In fact, Lightning coach John Tortorella talked Friday as if Game 7 on Monday not only is a possibility, but a certainty.

And Flames coach Darryl Sutter, overly cautious throughout the playoffs about speaking a single word that could turn up on an opponent's bulletin board, was even more restrained than usual.

Tortorella and Sutter both know recent history suggests that a Cup-deciding victory in Game 6 is anything but assured.

Three of the last five teams with a chance to win the Cup in Game 6 couldn't do so: the 2003 and 2001 Devils and the 1994 Rangers. The 2000 Devils and 1999 Stars pulled it off, but Dallas needed a third overtime in Buffalo and a disputed goal by Brett Hull, while the Devils required a two-overtime game in Dallas. The 2001 Devils not only lost Game 6 at home to Colorado, they lost Game 7 and the series, too.

"It just tells you that every game is sort of an entity unto itself," a weary Sutter said, only a few hours removed from an all-night flight following Thursday's 3-2 overtime victory in Game 5.

What Tortorella is telling his players is the series isn't over.

"We feel the best thing is to stay here, not travel after Game Six, so you get your maximum rest, the right rest," Tortorella said Friday about his team's plans. "We will be having breakfast with you here Sunday ... then we will get on to Game Seven."

Asked if he was guaranteeing a win on Saturday that would keep alive the series, he replied, "I am just telling you we feel good."

Most coaches avoid this kind of opponent-motivating tool, but Tortorella obviously feels his team needs an injection of confidence following Thursday's overtime disappointment.

His tactic is low-risk, too, since the Flames seemingly own nearly every advantage as they close in on becoming Canada's first Stanley Cup champion since Montreal in 1993. The excitement in Calgary is inescapable, the Flames' all-in-red fans are certain to be at their tumultuous best and the momentum is theirs.

But Tortorella must have liked this sign: An optional skate Friday afternoon attracted every player, a rarity so late in the two-month playoff grind.

Two days after Sutter laid out an "us vs. the world" scenario, Tortorella played his own psychological game.

"I am anxious to see how Calgary responds to some of the things you have to do in an elimination game in your building (with) all of Canada watching," he said. "They are supposed to win right now. That's a tough thing.

"They are going to start thinking about, what do you call it, the "Red Sea" or the "Red Mile." ... I am sure their players, distant cousins, brothers, sisters, all coming in, and rightfully so, this is a big thing."

Flames forward Shean Donovan, who missed part of Thursday's game with an unspecified leg injury, remembers Calgary lost a potential series-ending Game 6 at home against Vancouver during the first round before winning Game 7 on the road.

"It's whatever team wants it most," Donovan said. "Whatever team grabs hold right from the start ... (and) as it goes through, whoever keeps on pushing the whole game."

That's why Flames defenseman Andrew Ference isn't getting too caught up in the moment.

"To a certain extent, we have embraced the excitement the city has brought -- the people on the streets, the cars painted and the flags flying -- but come game time it's important to block some of those things out ... when you get on the ice, it's not going to help you one bit," he said.

Information from The Associated Press and SportsTicker was used in this report.