Make plans for a game seven, for it seems nobody wants to take a choke hold on the Stanley Cup final. Repeating a pattern of lose one, win one the Lightning have drawn equal with the Flames in the quest for the Stanley Cup. With a chance to take a commanding three game to one lead the Calgary Flames could not beat Nickolai Khabibulan, frequent Calgary opportunities to score were turned away. A slogging affair the term classic won’t be used by any but the true Lightning fan. But in the end it’s the score on the board that dictates how the audience will react to the game. In Tampa this was another date with destiny, in Calgary it probably is being treated more as just a travesty.
The Flames found themselves behind the eight ball in the first period as Kerry Fraser and Brad Waters combined in penalty calls to give the Bolts a two man advantage in the first two minutes of play. The dual call brought down the wrath of the Saddledome crowd as Fraser declined to put a Lightning player in the box for a retaliation cross check after the whistle. With Mike Commodore and Chris Clark watching from the penalty box, Brad Richards took advantage of the open ice to score the games only goal at 2:48 of the first.
As the game progressed the caliber of the play slowed down quite a bit, resulting in what Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella correctly described as Ugly hockey to finish off the first and second periods. The third showed moments of promise as Calgary began to press the Bolts in their own, pushing the fore check deep into the Tampa end of the ice. Throughout the game the Flames tested Nickolai Khabibulan but were denied time and time again. At the other end of the ice Miikka Kiprusoff did his best to keep his team within one goal of the Bolts.
Calgary seemed perplexed by the ability of the Lightning to stymie their attack, but penalties would slow down the Flame attack. Over the course of the game the Bolts had five chances on the Power Play while the Flames only benefited from two extra man situations.
The Calgary fans got another chance to voice their dis-pleasure with the Fraser/Waters enforcement policies as the duo missed a blatant interference call late in the third period. There would be no evening up of calls on this night and Calgary found itself master of its own misery late in the third as Ville Niemenen took a needless penalty for a stupid check from behind on Vincent Lecavalier. He was assessed a five minute major for his selfish behavior, putting his team in a short handed situation for the final four minutes of the game. The Flames were coming on prior to that and continued to apply pressure, but surely could have used some extra legs by that point. Still they had more than enough chances to pull this one out and couldn’t get the job done. And they now return to Tampa to await game five on Thursday night.
The momentum switch is now firmly behind the Bolts. But then again in this series home ice is not necessarily a home advantage, Calgary will want to get the upper hand in game five and come out flying, playing the hard hitting game that has brought them this far. The two teams now get a two day lay off as Game Five is scheduled for Thursday night at 8 pm EST, (5 PM PST).
The key for Darryl Sutter is to quickly get the Flames mind off of the lost opportunity of Monday and focus on the challenge ahead. If the Flames can go back into Tampa and take the fifth game, they’ll be able to reward their fans with the chance for a Stanley Cup win on home ice.
If the Flames lose game five it will be the Bolts that will have the chance to seize the moment. Should that happen then game four will surely be looked upon as the turning point in this series, a controversial 60 minutes of hockey that will be discussed long after the season finally comes to an end.