ESPN's Bill Clement and Darren Pang take a look at some the the story lines heading into Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Calgary Flames, currently tied at two games apiece:
The pressure of a Stanley Cup finals series that is tied 2-2 is certainly intense, but players develop the ability to live in a vacuum this time of year. Seldom do they think of the overall or what might happen down the road. It's all about living in the present moment.
That being said, there is of course an underlying or subconscious understanding of what is at stake. And while that realization never consciously affects what a player does on the ice it will show itself in various ways. He may pass when he should shoot, or he may not hold the puck as long as he should in certain situations, and it is those little flashes of panic the average eye doesn't see that can affect a player's performance in a situation like this. Just because players aren't thinking about the pressure doesn't mean they are immune to it.
Living in that vacuum also insulates players from things like the rant Calgary coach Darryl Sutter went on at his Wednesday press conference. Smart players don't watch television or read the newspapers because dedicating even one minute of thought to what's being said and written about your team is too much. There are more important things to think about right now.
Sutter is obviously trying to create an "Us vs. the World" mentality for his team, but he could have done that just as effectively in the locker-room without having to use the media. And while I have a tremendous amount of respect for Darryl Sutter, he went a little too far in slamming the commissioner's office. It just doesn't look good for the sport when a coach is blasting the league during the Stanley Cup finals.
Both goaltenders -- Tampa Bay's Nikolai Khabibulin and Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff -- seem to be in the zone right now. Part of that is because despite the hype surrounding the Stanley Cup finals a goalie is at his most comfortable at this point in the season.
There is no worry about playing time or getting pulled from a game. The crease feels comfortable and the pads feel perfect, and because they've faced so many shots in games and practices to this point the goalies see plays develop more quickly and the puck seems to move just a bit slower. The eyes seem to take the puck right to the body every time.
Pressure is not something that enters a goalie's mind right now. They are thinking about routines and preparation and not looking too far ahead. They're worried about eating right and sleeping enough, preparing for game day. And once they're on the ice the only thing on their minds is stopping the first shot they see.