After 1,759 games, Bolts captain wins Cup

TAMPA, Fla. -- Dave Andreychuk hoisted the Stanley Cup above
his head, hopped twice in jubilation and skated away with the prize
that eluded him for more than two decades on a long, sometimes
frustrating journey.

Six teams, 1,759 games and 22 seasons after beginning what likely is a Hall of Fame career, the 40-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning captain now has a line on his résumé that reads Stanley Cup champion.

No one had played more games than Andreychuk without winning a title until the Lightning beat the Calgary Flames 2-1 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals Monday night, finishing an improbable comeback from a 3-2 deficit in the series.

"This is awesome," Andreychuk said. "This is more than I ever expected. You can dream about it, but you can't ever go through it."

Andreychuk finished the biggest game of his life in the penalty
box, drawing a whistle for tripping with 22 seconds left. He bolted
out of the box when it was over, dropped his stick and joined
teammates in mobbing goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin behind the net.

"It's awesome for him," forward Tim Taylor said. "We kept
saying this wasn't about Dave. It was about our team. It's special
because Dave led the team. Twenty-two years and now he's a Stanley
Cup champion. I'm proud to be part of it."

Andreychuk had played a record 1,597 regular-season games, and another 161 in the playoffs, without winning an NHL championship before Monday night. The closest he had come to playing in a Cup final was with Toronto in 1993 and Colorado in 2000, and both times his team lost Game 7 in the conference finals.

The big question now is whether Andreychuk, a first-round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 1982, has played his last game, following the lead of one-time teammate Ray Bourque, who retired after finally winning the Cup in his 22nd season in 2001.

"I am going to savor this moment with my teammates and my
family, and this is going to last awhile," Andreychuk said. "Then
I will make a decision. Obviously this the pinnacle. This is what
we play for, and it's taken me awhile to get here. But I'm going to
wait and see what happens."

Although Lightning coach John Tortorella insisted throughout the playoffs that Andreychuk did not need a championship to validate his career, the captain's quest was clearly a motivation for a team built around young stars Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards.

"You have to feel good for him," forward Cory Stillman said.
"It's so hard to get your name on the Cup. People play forever to
try to do it, and some of them never get it done."

A scorer for 19 seasons with Buffalo, Toronto, New Jersey, Boston and Colorado, Andreychuk signed with the Lightning as a free agent in July 2001 and accepted a role as a checking forward and faceoff specialist to fit into Tortorella's plans.

This season was the 19th in which he's scored at least 20 goals. Only two players -- Hall of Famer Gordie Howe (22) and Ron Francis (20) -- have had more.

But Andreychuk's biggest contribution to the Lightning probably has been in the locker room, where he has been a leader for a team that lacked discipline on and off the ice while struggling through a NHL-record stretch of four consecutive seasons with at least 50 losses.

The Lightning captain joked Sunday that this year's playoff run had been more nerve wracking for his family, which assembled in Tampa at the start of the playoffs and has yet to leave. He finished these playoffs with one goal and 13 assists in 23 games, with a league-high eight of those assists coming on power-play goals.

Families and friends of other players also joined them in the
locker room for the postgame celebration. Music blared, champagne
flowed, players drank beer from the Cup, and one -- forward Dmitry Afanasenkov -- posed for a picture with a baby virtually sitting in
the trophy.

"You go through such an emotional rollercoaster, so many ups
and downs to get here," forward Fredrik Modin said. "To be able
to finish it off is indescribable."