The ultimate fantasy for Canadians

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 3:07 PM ET


 Momentum? Forget it.

 Home ice? Irrelevant.

 Pressure? Equal for both teams.

 It's a Game 7 for the Stanley Cup, something every Canadian on the Calgary Flames and Tampa Bay Lightning has fantasized about thousands of times.

 They've all scored Stanley Cup Game 7 winners. Lots of times. But when they get a chance to do it tonight, it will be for real, not on a frozen pond or on a road with a tennis ball.

 Tonight, we will see the ultimate Canadian fantasy. American boys want to grow up to be president. Canadian boys want to grow up to score the winner in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.

 And even though it was not the case a few years ago, the players from other nations now have caught on. They, too, will be giving everything they have to win the ultimate prize in their chosen profession.

 That's why momentum doesn't matter. The Flames were down after their 3-2 double overtime loss in Game 6 on Saturday night, especially because they felt a puck that appeared to cross the goal line had not been sufficiently reviewed and should have been a goal.

 But once the puck drops for tonight's opening faceoff, all will be forgotten.

 Similarly, home ice won't matter. In a game like this, the players become so focused, so dedicated to the task at hand, that the cheers or boos of the crowd are irrelevant.

 And with these two teams being so equal, the matchups aren't much of a concern any more. In theory, Tampa's John Tortorella has an edge, but the Flames are adept at getting stoppages to make line changes.

 Furthermore, after six hard-fought games, two of which went into overtime, each line knows its job against any line the opposition might send out. And that's true for both teams.

 The pressure won't be a major factor either. Granted, there is tension. When you get to this stage, you go into the game nervous and apprehensive.

 But that wears off fairly quickly. Barring any officiating decisions that determine the outcome, this game will be won by the team that works the hardest.

 That's an easy thing to say, and every player will certainly be trying his best.

 But it's those extra little efforts, those extra little spurts when the lungs are screaming for a rest that will make the difference.

 Game 6, for instance, was won in overtime when Brad Richards got an ever-so-slight touch on a routine shot from the point. That changed the angle of the puck just enough to prevent a clean catch by Miikka Kiprusoff and thereby led to the rebound that Martin St. Louis converted for the winner.

 It's for that reason that Flames coach Darryl Sutter said that he thought the officials made the right call on the disputed non-goal by Martin Gelinas.

 Sutter knew that no matter what he said, the call was not going to be reversed, and at this stage of the season you can't have your players making any excuses. You can't have them thinking,

 "We shouldn't have to be playing this game because we should have won the Cup on Saturday," he said.

 One that mindset sinks in, however briefly, a player gives himself an excuse for not finishing a check, or for not diving in front of a shot or for not battling for a loose puck.

 The Flames can't afford any negative thoughts. They have to go in with the attitude that if they win just this one game, the Stanley Cup is theirs.

 On Saturday night, a number of them were already leaning towards that view. It's one game for the Stanley Cup, they said. Wouldn't we all have accepted that offer at the beginning of the season?

 Consider the offer accepted.

 It's time to live out the fantasy. <


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