The Philadelphia Flyers had wanted to put the Tampa Bay Lightning into an unfamiliar position to see how their opponent would respond.
They didn't get the response they had anticipated. The Lightning, needing to rise to the occasion with the pressure squarely on their shoulders, did exactly that.
In the hostile confines of the Wachovia Center, where no team had emerged victorious in this post-season, the Lightning defeated the Flyers 4-1 last night and took a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference final.
And the Lightning did it even though the Flyers' Keith Primeau scored only 36 seconds into the third period to narrow the gap to 2-1 and give the impression that a comeback was under way.
Instead, only 43 seconds later, Vincent Lecavalier scored on a breakaway after Martin St. Louis spotted him racing up the middle and hit him with a perfect pass.
That one was the killer -- the widely conceded turning point -- though the opening goal, a soft one allowed by Philly goaltender Robert Esche, was a strong candidate for runner-up.
St. Louis and Lecavalier have used that play to great advantage all season long -- and often the roles are reversed. But as soon as there is a hint of a turnover, one of them breaks and the other tries to hit him.
"That's just knowing each other's game," St. Louis said. "I knew Vinny was probably going to go there so I took a glance.
"I saw he was streaking down there, so I just tried to put the puck where I knew he would be."
Lecavalier picked it up in full stride, sped over the blue line, picked his spot and fired it past Esche to break the hearts of the Philly faithful.
"It was a tough goal," conceded Flyers forward Mark Recchi, "especially right after you start the period with a big goal like Keith did.
"You want to get life from a goal, and they turn around and get one, and you've got a two-goal deficit again."
"Shifts after goals are really big," said Tampa forward Brad Richards, who added an insurance goal with less than 12 minutes to play, "especially when they score at home. You could see that that goal really took the momentum away from them."
The Lightning started the game at a high pace and for much of the early going the Flyers were under severe pressure.
But when the Lightning got on the board, it had more to do with weak goaltending than with Tampa's speed, its tactics or its territorial advantage.
Cory Stillman came down the right side and made a routine 50-foot shot that Esche should have stopped. Earlier in the game -- about 90 seconds in -- he had made a fantastic glove save on Freddy Modin and after that, this one from Stillman should have been easy pickings.
But somehow, it eluded Esche's glove and the Lightning had the all-important first goal.
For that matter, Esche didn't look particularly brilliant on the Lightning's second goal, either. That one wasn't as soft as the first, but even so, Esche probably should have stopped it. In fact, he almost did.
Ruslan Fedotenko fired a shot toward the five hole, and Esche was not quick enough in getting his pads together. The puck went through, fell into the crease and slid in.
Having dug themselves into a deep hole, the Flyers spent the second period fighting to crawl out of it.
But it was to no avail. Even though they buzzed around Tampa goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, and applied considerable pressure, they were unable to score.
Then when Primeau scored, it looked as if the Lightning was about to cave.
But once again, as has so often been the case this season, the Lightning was equal to the task.
Bolts strike back
AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun
, Last Updated: 3:09 PM ET