Hockey escapes trap

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 4:25 PM ET


 Unfortunately for the National Hockey League, the Flames and the Lightning play in Calgary and Tampa Bay, respectively.

 As a result, there is a widespread apathy in the Unites States. It's the result of a perception that because the Stanley Cup finalists are relatively unknown teams, they're not much fun to watch.

 If the entire rosters were transferred to the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers, hockey fans would be popping up everywhere raving about the revival of the sport.

 The fact is that both these teams are playing exciting hockey. They don't trap, they don't try to win 1-0 borefests. They go out and apply pressure and they do it with gusto.

 "I have always liked pressing forechecking," explained Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella yesterday, "so yes, when we first came here, the system was going to come in that way.

 "I think as the years have gone by, we have allowed it to be more aggressive when we felt our team could handle more. So we have progressed into a chase-type system. I have never trapped. I just don't like playing that way. We like to push it up the ice and we feel defence starts when you don't have the puck, so why wait to get it back in the end zone or the neutral zone? Why not go get it now? It's pretty simple thinking."

 It's also basically the system that Calgary uses, except the Flames tend to be a bit more physical. Like most teams, they come out hitting but when other teams ease off after half a period or so, the Flames keep going.

 They're still doing it in the second period. And the third.

 And in the long run, this is what should give them an edge over the Lightning.

 They'll need the goaltending of course. At this level, you can't win without it. But there's no reason to think that Miikka Kiprusoff won't come through, and even though Tampa's Nikolai Khabibulin is a fine goaltender, Kiprusoff has been better.

 But the Flames wear down opponents and they're facing a team that has just come through a gruelling seven-game series against an opponent -- the Philadelphia Flyers -- that also tried to wear Tampa down.

 The difference between the Flames and the Flyers is that the Flames consistently get to the target. Philadelphia didn't have the speed that the Flames possess, so often the Tampa players were able to elude the checks of the Flyers.

 But Calgary may well be the fastest team in the game. Their two-way high-octane line of Ville Nieminen, Marcus Nilson and Shean Donovan will match Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Ruslan Fedotenko stride for stride, and still have a few strides left over.

 Calgary's most glaring flaw is its special teams. The power play is weak and the penalty killing is mediocre. As a result, it's crucial that the Flames stay out of the penalty box.

 On the occasions that they fail, they'll try to take advantage of the Lightning's propensity to use Brad Richards on the point on the power play.

 They'll put Jarome Iginla out on that side and hope for a one-on-one break. They like their chances with that matchup.

 In fact, they like their chances in the entire matchup.

 And so they should. Calgary in five.


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