Richards' rocket

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 4:15 PM ET


 The obvious target for blame was the refs.

 Lord knows nearly one million people in Calgary would love to possess voodoo dolls of Kerry Fraser and Brad Watson after last night's Calgary Flames defeat.

 Rhett Warrener chose a different mark.

 The man in the mirror.

 It doesn't matter to the Flames defenceman the Tampa Bay Lightning were given an inexplicable 5-on-3 advantage before Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final was in the books.

 Or that those same officials failed to call an obvious trip on Craig Conroy that negated a golden scoring chance midway through the third period.

 Or that a hit on Vincent Lecavalier late in the game turned into a major penalty that pretty much killed any comeback hopes.

 No, Warrener's disappointment after the 1-0 loss that tied the best-of-seven at two wins apiece was saved for himself.

 After all, he failed to chip the puck from harm's way seconds before Brad Richards netted the game-winning goal.

 "We've got to bear down," Warrener said with pursed lips. "They don't score if I get that puck out. The difference in the game was right there."

 Which sets up a critical fifth game Thursday night in Tampa Bay.

 With all the excitement over the fact a win would have put the Flames within one victory of a championship, the fired-up crowd of 19,221 jammed in the Saddledome could sense trouble less than two minutes into the tilt.

 First, Mike Commodore was flagged for holding. In the scrum that followed, Chris Clark took a cross-checking penalty, an infraction he admitted he deserved. However, Nolan Pratt's retaliatory hit -- a cross-check in the back that sent the Flames forward sprawling -- wasn't called.

 Given all the time and space he could ask for on the 5-on-3 powerplay, Richards hit paydirt with a top-corner bullet past a screened Miikka Kiprusoff.

 The tally is his NHL record seventh game-winner of the playoffs. It also continued an incredible trend: The Lightning have a perfect 8-0 post-season record when the P.E.I. product tallies.

 It's an amazing 30-0-2 counting the regular season.

 "It's great to score goals but your team has to do the job to shut them down," said Richards, who avoided talk of his record. "It's not like I scored seven in a row in overtime. A lot of those goals ... were scored in the first period. You can't control whether they are game-winners."

 All those stats intimating the Lightning are unbeatable came to fruition but it wasn't because the Flames didn't have a chance to draw even.

 With 57 minutes on the clock, there were ample opportunities.

 Jarome Iginla ripped a bullet that Tampa goalie Nikolai Khabibulin got just enough of to deflect it off the cross bar.

 Twice, Martin Gelinas couldn't find the handle from in close.

 Then there's the golden chances that didn't even add to Khabibulin's 29-save performance. Those really steamed Flames GM-head coach Darryl Sutter.

 "Second period, we had great chances and missed the net," he said. "I think of two right off the top of my head. These are two teams that aren't going to give you many chances and I can think of two great ones: (Oleg) Saprykin and (Jordan) Leopold."

 Both ended up shooting wide of the mark.

 Just like the Flames' hopes.

 "This is tough to take because it was a chance to be one win away from a Stanley Cup," Iginla said. "We have more. We've got better in our room. When you're shut out, as a group of forwards, we have to look at ourselves. It wasn't like we had 50 shots. Khabibulin made some very good saves but we've got to make him make more.

 "We have to be better for the best-of-three coming up."

 Which may have to be played without Ville Nieminen, who was given a major penalty for his hit on Lecavalier and could be facing his second suspension of the playoffs.

 Iginla and the rest of the Flames refused comment on the officiating.

 "I'd love to comment but it's really not the time," the captain said. "It doesn't do us any good."


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