Dream unfinished

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 2:52 PM ET


 TAMPA -- From inside the nearly silent and sombre dressing room, the Calgary Flames could hear the jubilation.

 The brick walls only muffled the sound of the Tampa Bay Lightning on-ice celebration with the Stanley Cup presentation.

 The roar of the crowd was only slightly muted.

 It was a sound that stung like 1,000 knives in the heart.

 After all, they were oh so close to being in that same spotlight.

 One win away from the glory they'd all dreamed of reaching.

 The finality of it all struck -- the improbable dream that was so close it appeared to be destiny was over.

 "It's the toughest (loss) by a thousand times," Flames captain Jarome Iginla whispered after last night's 2-1 loss that was the difference between champion and runner-up. "That hurts more than anything I've been a part of, by far.

 "One shot away. We tried. We gave it everything near the end. We were literally one shot away, one second away, from winning the Stanley Cup. We expected it to be us hearing the music and the crowd and things like that but it's not ..."

 Then his voice trailed off.

 The miracle finish from a franchise that had missed seven straight post-season parties seemed so tangible just a few days ago.

 It couldn't have looked better heading into the sixth game, with two chances to gain victory No. 4 and seal the deal.

 Instead, the Flames couldn't come up with it in their first opportunity -- an overtime loss at home that included a disputable non-goal that would have put them ahead with seven minutes remaining in regulation -- and fell in seven games to a Tampa Bay club that claimed its first ever Stanley Cup.

 It was a run that swept up a city looking and hoping to see the unlikeliest of teams add a championship to the win of 1989.

 It swept up a nation hoping to see them become the first Canadian-based team to claim hockey's Holy Grail since Montreal in 1993.

 But the club that took out all three top seeds in the West just couldn't upend the Eastern Conference champs.

 "There's highs and lows and this is the ultimate low," said Craig Conroy, Calgary's lone goal scorer. "This is the worst loss I've felt."

 All those jitters that affected Calgary's play at the Saddledome were supposed to be a thing of the past for an underdog team going into their host's barn.

 It was supposed to be the Lightning that was under pressure from trying to claim the Cup before the home crowd.

 Instead, Calgary picked the most inopportune time to come up with a dud of a first period.

 The giveaways came one after another.

 Poor passes appeared light years from the tape.

 There were no hits. No speed. No flow.

 No life.

 "Jarome and I, we needed to do a little more. We couldn't quite get it done," Conroy said. "Just like Darryl (Sutter, the GM-head coach) would probably say, our top guys have got to do it and we weren't able to get that second one.

 "That's as disappointing as it gets."

 Not that the Lightning was much better. The game's first shot on goal took nearly eight minutes.

 But the hosts were good enough thanks to a pair of goals from Ruslan Fedotenko -- a powerplay marker in the first and the game winner with five minutes remaining in the middle frame.

 "In the end, we ran out of gas," said Sutter, whose injury ravaged team just couldn't find its game. "We tried to summon all we could in terms of energy. In the end, they had more legs than us."

 And the Bolts had one last save from goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.

 After Conroy finally solved him with 10 minutes remaining, the Flames nearly had the equalizer when Jordan Leopold was robbed by Khabibulin on a rebound offering in the waning minutes.

 And, when the buzzer sounded, it was the Lightning celebrating.

 "It could have went either way," said Tampa's Conn Smythe Trophy winner Brad Richards. "It's just last man standing.

 "Basically, we might have won one more battle, got one more big save, obviously another goal but there's so many little things you can break it down to.

 "Two teams to go one goal in seven games. That's the way it should be."

 That may be true but the Flames will tell you it depends on what side of the wall you're sitting when the Cup's presented.


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