Cup dream heads south

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:26 PM ET


 Not long ago, the mere mention of it would have provoked laughter.

 But today, it's reality.

 The Stanley Cup champion is the Tampa Bay Lightning.

 The Calgary Flames pushed the Lightning to seven games, but beaten and battered, undermanned and overmatched, they just couldn't muster enough against a motivated Tampa Bay team playing in front of its boisterous home crowd last night.

 "You go through such an emotional roller-coaster, so many ups and downs to get here," Tampa forward Fredrik Modin said. "To be able to finish it off is indescribable."

 The Flames lost 2-1 after Ruslan Fedotenko fired a goal in each of the first two periods to build a lead the Flames, despite producing a wild finish, could not overcome.

 The Flames manufactured only seven shots during the first two periods, but after Craig Conroy scored on a power play midway through the third period, they realized they still had some hope and mounted a furious attack.

 But with the Cup on the line, the Lightning held on, a task that was made easier when Calgary's Andrew Ference was penalized for a hard but clean check with 1:02 remaining.

 As has been the case throughout its playoff run, the Lightning rode its power play to victory, getting the all-important opening goal with the man advantage.

 Brad Richards, who was later awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy, shot from the point and Fedotenko deflected it on the way in.

 Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff made a fine save, but there was no way he could control the rebound and Fedotenko fired it home at 13:31.

 "That was the key play," said Conroy. "There was nothing going on. It was like a chess match out there.

 "But then they got a couple of power plays. They cashed in the second and that was a big boost for them.

 "We took too many penalties again. It killed us all series long. Five on five, we feel we're the best team in hockey."

 Down one, the Flames might have been able to fight back. But in the second period, Vincent Lecavalier had an excellent shift, fighting off Flames checkers and setting up Fedotenko in front for his second of the night. Kiprusoff got some of it, but couldn't keep it out.

 Conroy's third-period goal put some life into the Flames, but the Lightning was diving frantically in front of loose pucks to block shots. When they couldn't do the job, goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin did.

 And despite a heroic effort, with Shean Donovan out of the lineup and everybody else nursing injuries of varying degrees, the Flames simply could not get the goal they needed.

 It was the culmination of an incredible and unexpected ride for the Lightning, a team that, in many quarters, was expected to be beaten by the New York Islanders in the first round.

 Tampa had an easier ride than the Flames in the post-season and that may have stood the team in good stead when it finally staggered across the marathon finish line first.

 But on the other hand, Tampa earned its seeding by virtue of its first-place finish in the regular season -- not just in the Southeast Division, but in the entire Eastern Conference.

 Furthermore, in a 30-team league, there's no such thing as an easy draw. This is not the NBA where teams that are 10 or more games under .500 advance to the post-season.

 The Lightning couldn't have done it without Richards, who exhibited an uncanny ability to score crucial goals.

 But like any championship team, Tampa used contributions from a host of stars --some high-profile and some unheralded -- to take the Lightning to the pinnacle.

 And finally, after 1,758 games, Dave Andreychuk got to hoist the Stanley Cup.


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