'So close to a dream'

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 2:05 PM ET


 The 2004 Stanley Cup final was billed as skill versus will, the talented Tampa Bay Lightning versus the yeomen Calgary Flames.

 In the end, the Flames called it an NHL championship that got away.

 Upon further review, Lord Stanley's mug was theirs to take home for the first time in 15 years. And they should have won it at home in Game 6 of the final.

 But video replays of what appeared to be a third-period goal by Martin Gelinas were deemed inconclusive by the league.

 Instead, the best-of-seven final went the distance after the 3-2 double overtime win by the Lightning in front of a devastated home crowd at the Saddledome. And in Game 7, the Lightning used what made them the Eastern Conference champions to win 2-1 and claim the coveted Cup.

 "We expect a lot of speed from them," said defenceman Andrew Ference prior to the start of the final series. "They're a talented group. They score a lot of goals and play a quick game. Our biggest challenge will be containing their top forwards."

 The Flames did just that in winning Game 1 with a convincing 4-1 decision, using their own top forwards to seal the deal.

 Gelinas scored on an early deflection and Jarome Iginla netted the eventual deciding goal with a second-effort shot to finish a shorthanded breakaway.

 But the Lightning showed its true offensive talent in Game 2, when skilled forwards Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier, Ruslan Fedotenko and Martin St. Louis stepped to the fore to put on a goal-scoring clinic. It resulted in a 4-1 triumph for the hosts and a split series heading to Calgary.

 Yet the skill of the Bolts didn't faze the Flames coming home for Games 3 and 4.

 "We have a real solid defence and our goalie (Miikka Kiprusoff) is awesome," said feisty winger Chris Clark. "Our forwards coming back have done a good job as well on the defensive side."

 Indeed, defence and Kiprusoff won Game 3 with a 3-0 shutout at the Saddledome.

 And the tandem nearly netted the Flames the Game 4 win but Richards sniped his record-breaking seventh game-winning goal of the playoffs in a 1-0 shutout win in front of goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.

 Led by Iginla's two-point effort and Oleg Saprykin's overtime goal, the Flames took apparent control of the final with a 3-2 victory -- and their record tying 10th road win of the post-season -- in Game 5.

 The Flames didn't seem too upset after St. Louis scored 33 seconds into the second OT of Game 6, forcing a deciding game in Tampa.

 "Hey, we're back on the road," said defenceman Jordan Leopold. "We would love to have risen to the occasion but we've got another chance at it. The good news is we get two cracks at it."

 The bad news, however, was the heartbreaking loss in Game 7.

 The Flames lacked the foot-speed, intensity and physical punch to rival the Lightning in the final game. The Bolts busted out with solid chances and generated enough to take a 2-0 lead on goals by Ruslan Fedotenko by the end of the second period.

 Craig Conroy's perfect point shot beat Khabibulin high to the short-side in the third period but the Bolts clamped down and the 'Bulin Wall would not be beaten again.

 "In the end, we ran out of gas," said Flames GM/head coach Darryl Sutter. "In a way, winning Game 5 cost us because of the injuries we sustained. We did what we could to conserve energy. But in the end, they had more legs than we did."

 The Flames were without speedy winger Shean Donovan, out with a strained knee ligaments. Star defenceman Robyn Regehr played despite a broken ankle or ligament damage. And Iginla proved a non-factor in the final game thanks to extra attention paid him by the Lightning.

 "It feels worse than missing (the playoffs) all those years," Iginla said after the Game 7 loss.

 "We were so close to a dream. To believe it could be us out there holding the Cup, I pray we get another chance."


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