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Saturday, June 5, 2004
Lightning, Flames both under pressure

By Bill Clement
Special to ESPN.com

It has been said that the Calgary Flames are the team facing the most pressure in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals, but after their inexplicably flat performance in Game 5 it is the Tampa Bay Lightning who are facing the biggest questions.

Dan Boyle
Dan Boyle (22) and the rest of the Lightning know exactly what is at stake in Game 6.
The Lightning are down 3-2 and facing elimination in Calgary because they missed the opportunity to take control of the series in their own building. The Tampa Bay players said Saturday morning that they were as shocked as anyone about their inability to come out strong in that game. They cannot offer an explanation.

It would be a shock if the same thing happened in Game 6. If it does, the Lightning have no right to stake any sort of claim to the Stanley Cup. They have to be better and they know it, so there are no excuses.

Tampa Bay is out of options and out of time. Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle said Saturday morning that his team's back is against the wall and that this time it's for real. Boyle was right. While that expression is used often in sports, it holds especially true in Game 6. If Tampa does not pick up its play, the season will be over and there won't be a Stanley Cup to show for all the hard work that went into getting this far.

The Lightning will likely come out of the gate with a better effort than in Game 5, but both Tampa Bay and Calgary must avoid being too revved up.

The Flames face a similar sense of urgency because they want nothing more than to close this series out at home and avoid going back to Tampa for Game 7. I recall the same feeling before our Philadelphia Flyers faced the Boston Bruins in Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup finals. We knew that losing that game would send us back to Boston for Game 7, and we pretty much assumed we would not win the Cup on the Bruins' home ice.

What Calgary has to guard against is getting too caught up in that kind of thinking. The Flames have to concentrate on playing the kind of hockey that has gotten them this far. Trying to do too much right off the bat will get them away from their quick, disciplined style and allow Tampa Bay too many early scoring chances.

Very few games are won in the first 10 minutes, but the first goal has been very important in this series and neither team wants to play from behind.

The best thing Calgary coach Darryl Sutter can do for his team as Game 6 approaches is be consistent with his demeanor. What he says will not be nearly as important as how he carries himself and the degree of calm or nervousness he displays.

As with any leader in any walk of life, appearing rattled or on the verge of panic would affect Sutter's players. But Sutter has been good throughout the playoffs as a "steady-as-she-goes" coach and the players themselves seemed very matter-of-fact Saturday morning before the game.

The Flames understand the magnitude of the situation, but not one guy in the lockerroom seemed shaken by it or seemed to be thinking too much about the pressure. They were a very calm bunch, which is exactly what they need to be.

That's easier said than done, though. As a player who is so close to the Stanley Cup, your heart and head are in complete conflict. Your heart is telling you to go ahead and start tasting the champagne, but your head has to overrule that in order to focus on the task at hand.

The great struggle for both teams in Game 6 will be to play the game without thinking of the consequences of winning or losing. The focus for both teams must be on the process, rather than the outcome, if either hopes to win.

ESPN hockey analyst Bill Clement played 11 seasons in the NHL and won two Stanley Cups with the Philadelphia Flyers.