Fiery Flames soften 'em up

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:27 PM ET


 THhe Calgary Flames produced exactly the game they wanted last night.

 They softened up the Tampa Bay Lightning in the early stages, scored the first goal, and supplemented it with great goaltending.

 With a formula like that, it came as no surprise that they won 3-0 and took a 2-1 lead in the Stanley Cup final.

 It was almost a perfect game by the Flames and even though they didn't mount much offence early, the fans who made up the vocal Sea of Red weren't the least concerned.

 They're knowledgeable enough to recognize the strategy, and they could see that the Flames had their priorities in order. First, establish a physical superiority. Once that's in place, worry about establishing an offensive superiority.

 "We wanted to keep it tight," said Flames forward Craig Conroy.

 "We wanted to keep it low scoring. That was our game plan. Keep it tight in the first period, then see what we could do in the second."

 As he so often does, captain Jarome Iginla punctuated the game plan.

 Since the Flames wanted to soften up the Lightning and since Vincent Lecavalier had been becoming increasingly dominant on their behalf, Iginla went after Lecavalier.

 He banged him along the boards, then banged him behind the net, then grabbed him and threw him around a bit and then started throwing punches.

 It is considered to be bad form for a team to send its enforcer after a star. But if a star goes after a star, it's acceptable.

 GOT WORST OF IT

 It may not have been so acceptable to Lecavalier, however. He got the worst of it and the Flames, despite losing Iginla's services for five minutes, got a big psychological boost.

 Even though there was plenty of action in the first period, the Flames had only two shots -- compared to five for the Lightning -- a further indication that their intention was to establish a physical presence first, and an offensive presence later.

 Finally, in the second period, the Flames' strategy paid off and they opened a lead. But it took a superb short-handed save by Miikka Kiprusoff on a Brad Richards breakaway to make it happen.

 Right afterwards, the Flames went to the attack, and a nice pass from Iginla sent Chris Simon down the right side and right to the edge of the crease. He took a shot that Nikolai Khabibulin saved, then another, then a third. Finally, the puck went it.

 That prompted Simon to leap into the air, rush into the corner and bounce off the glass.

 "I was just so excited," he said. "I didn't know what I was doing out there. I was just so happy to score a goal. I really don't have much of a celebration, so I guess my type of celebration is banging into something."

 A little more than three minutes later, the Flames' Shean Donovan and Chuck Kobasew got a two-on-one break.

 Donovan saw that the pass would probably be intercepted and that his best chance would be to take matters into his own hands. So he did and his shot off the post beat Khabibulin cleanly.

 The icing was an Iginla power-play goal in the dying moments to cap an ideal game for the Flames.

 "I think every single guy was ready physically," said Iginla. "And even though we only had a couple of scoring chances, we had a good period that kind of set the tone for the game."

 A perfect game, as it turned out.


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