Cup final rematch too long in the making

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

Martin St. Louis called it "a crime."

Tim Taylor said the NHL messed up by not scheduling a rematch much sooner.

Dan Boyle figured tonight's game was too long in coming.

Tonight at the Saddledome, some 33 months since the 2004 Stanley Cup final series, the Flames and Tampa Bay Lightning will meet again.

It's a travesty, caused by the NHL's ridiculously unbalanced schedule, which the Lightning players had no problem calling a big disservice to fans.

"We should have played against them the following year," said Boyle, the Tampa defenceman, after yesterday's practice at the 'Dome.

"The teams that play each other in the finals should play the first night, I think, like the NFL does. It's too bad to wait three years to see a certain team."

The clash won't change the fact Tampa Bay ended up victorious in the thrilling seven-game series, nor erase the disappointment from the Calgary side, but even the Lightning players believe the night will have a little extra oomph.

"We've marked this game on our calendar for quite a while," Taylor said. "It's gonna be an exciting game for the fans to see these two games on the ice again.

"It's been so long but it's a big game. Both teams are trying to find their way before the playoffs start and get some momentum."

If they needed any reminders Flames fans haven't forgotten, Boyle pointed out he and his mates received plenty over the past couple of days.

"We're meeting people in the streets and they're talking about the Cup year," said Boyle, whose squad arrived Thursday. "I'm sure the fans will be excited."

While Calgary's team has had a major overhaul, the Lightning have had plenty of changes, too.

The Flames have only eight players from that squad, one of whom, Matthew Lombardi, who didn't play in the final due to injury, and have morphed into a more offensively gifted squad.

Tampa continues to boast 10 players from its run, including the big trio of forwards, Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and St. Louis.

Still, the Lightning did say farewell to No. 1 goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, defencemen Pavel Kubina, Jassen Cullimore, Darryl Sydor and Brad Lukowich and forward Cory Stillman.

Time and the salary cap prevented the champions from icing a team that could have been a contender for a few seasons.

"Yeah, with the lockout year, we lost a few guys under contract for that year," Boyle said. "A guy like Lukowich was my defence partner. It sucked.

"I guess the core of our team is still here but our third and fourth lines and our goaltenders are different, so (tonight's game) is gonna be a bit of a different feel for them."

As much as the return engagement could be billed as Game 8 for the 2004 final, it's really just an inter-conference clash in March.

More importantly, for both teams, is the points on the line.

Calgary is in a tough battle with Vancouver and Minnesota for first place in the Northwest Division, and looking to hold off the hard-charging Colorado Avalanche.

The Lightning sit a couple of points back of the Atlanta Thrashers in the Southeast Division, holding down sixth spot in the East.


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