Sunday, May 23, 2004

Flyers laid low, as Bolts advance to Final!

Ok, so if you picked the Flames and the Lightning to meet in the 2004 Stanley Cup it’s time for you to get a new job. There are 28 other NHL franchises looking for your services, for if you could honestly say that you saw these two teams meeting for Lord Stanley’s drinking mug then you are a hockey genius!

In what probably will be an American television nightmare the unheralded Lightning will take on the Calgary Flames starting Tuesday night in game one of the best of seven series.

Ruslan Fedotenko and Frederik Modin scored the only two Bolt goals as Tampa edged the Flyers 2-1 to clinch the Eastern division championship in seven games, thrilling the over 22,000 fans that filled up the St. Pete Times Forum on Saturday night. Kim Johnnson replied with the solitary Flyer goal as Philadelphia could not repeat their heroics of game six. Nikolai Khabibulin stepping up and keeping them off the score sheet in a frantic third when the Flyers had chance after chance but to no avail.

Power play opportunites once again proved to be the downfall of the Flyers as they went 1-26 in this series with a man advantage, that more than anything else was the determining factor in the end of the season for the Orange and Black.

Tampa shut down Keith Primeau on Saturday night as he was denied any space in front of Khabibulin kept on the peripheral of the Lightning net. John Leclair was also held pointless by Khabibulin in game seven despite a number of chances, a telling stat in this game as he has been held to only four points through the entire playoffs, the same total as Donald Brashear. Jeremy Roenick was held off the score sheet and sent to the ice a number of times by crushing checks as the Bolts shut down the blue line and turned back line after line of Flyers. Try as they might, there would be no miracles left in the Flyer line up, once again they come up short on advancing to the Stanley Cup Final.

For the Lightning making the Stanley Cup final is the ultimate reward for belief in their own line up, even if most observers never took them seriously. Having made the playoffs only three times in their twelve year history the Lightning stuck together on those nights when all seemed lost, when even their own fans may have given up on their chances. Those fans are believers now and they will have the chance to carry on with their faith on Tuesday night, when Tampa hosts the first game of the Stanley Cup Final.

HockeyNation never suspected that Florida would be hosting the last bit of hockey this season, nor did Calgary factor into our deliberations. But through hard work and good coaching both teams have outlasted all the other contenders and pretenders. It’s far removed from the days of the original six, but hockey is hockey. Hard work will win out most times and if nothing else these are two very hard working squads. Hockey fans are in the home stretch now; two thoroughbreds are rushing to the finish line even if they sometimes act like plow horses. Young, fast and entertaining, if we can put aside the idea of Tampa surviving and Calgary surprising us all the way to the finals, we may find we enjoy this Stanley Cup contest.

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