TAMPA, Fla. Calgary captain Jarome Iginla disrupted and distracted Tampa Bay throughout Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final with his physical play and offensive creativity.
The Lightning's answer was Vincent Lecavalier the same player whose perceived me-first attitude once caused a huge rift with coach John Tortorella.
Lecavalier set up two goals with ingenuity and in-your-face attitude, establishing an early tone in a 4-1 Lightning victory Thursday night that evened the final.
Game 3 is Saturday night in Calgary, where the Flames are only 4-5. Tampa Bay is 5-2 on the road, but has lost its last two.
The Lightning capitalized on a deficient Calgary power play 0-for-5 in the first two periods and their own patience to break the game open. Ruslan Fedotenko scored in the first period, then goals by Brad Richards, Dan Boyle and Martin St. Louis in the first six minutes of the third period clinched it.
''It's just one but, for us, it was a chance to turn the momentum around and we did that,'' said St. Louis, who got his second goal in as many games. ''Our desperation level was much higher.''
Dave Andreychuk, the 40-year Tampa Bay captain who finally reached the Stanley Cup final in his 22nd NHL season, assisted on Richards' and St. Louis' goals in a game he said the Lightning absolutely could not lose. They didn't, with both sides crediting Lecavalier's ability to not just set up big goals, but deliver big hits.
''Throughout the game he was physical,'' Richards said. ''It kind of brings everybody on the same page. You saw it happen in the last series with (Philadelphia's Keith) Primeau and that just makes everybody believe they can do it.''
Fedotenko's goal, his seventh in nine games and 10th of the playoffs, came just over seven minutes in. It ended Calgary's record streak of not allowing a first-period goal in nine consecutive games.
Fedotenko grabbed Jassen Cullimore's rebound and pushed it toward the net, then swept the puck past Miikka Kiprusoff as it lay in the crease. The play started when Lecavalier skated the puck out from behind the net after deking Flames center Stephane Yelle with what effectively was a pass to himself off the back of the net.
''It wasn't the moves that were the most important part of his game. I thought his presence was the most important thing,'' said Tortorella, who long ago smoothed over his relationship with Lecavalier. ''I thought he showed a physical presence, and you could just see him maturing, saying to the team, 'Follow me.' ''
Calgary hoped to win its sixth straight on the road. Kiprusoff kept it to 1-0 through two periods with a succession of key saves, only to give up three goals in three minutes.
''Other than Jarome, our skilled players weren't as effective in tough areas as their skilled players,'' coach Darryl Sutter said. ''Lecavalier made a great play on the first goal against our best checking center (Stephane Yelle). He's a big guy and a physical player.''
It was the kind of play the Lightning see in practice almost daily.
''Well, Vinny is a special player obviously, and he tries a lot of things most players don't,'' Boyle said. ''He gets away with it. We like to see that, as long as it ends up in their net.''
Richards' goal at 2:51 of the third was the game-winner his record-tying sixth of the postseason. Colorado's Joe Sakic (1996) and Dallas' Joe Nieuwendyk (1999) also had six.
Richards' third goal in five games and ninth of the playoffs almost guaranteed Tampa Bay would win, because the Lightning are 29-0-2 when he scores, 7-0 in the playoffs.
Boyle's goal, off Richards' assist, made it 3-0 barely a minute after Richards scored and came about 48 hours after his Tampa house sustained $300,000 damage in a fire that broke out late in Game 1.
''That was awesome,'' Boyle said of his goal. ''Sleeping hasn't been good the last two nights, but we knew we had to come out with a big night. We came out a lot harder and with a lot more desperation and we killed off some big penalties.''
Boyle acknowledged being shaken up by the fire and seemed concerned about regaining his focus. He shouldn't have worried, just as the Lightning need not have fretted whether sometimes-shaky goalie Nikolai Khabibulin would rebound from a poor performance Tuesday. He made 18 saves.
Khabibulin had a shutout until Ville Nieminen scored midway through the third period. Khabibulin improved to 5-0 following a loss, allowing only five goals in those five games.
''I feel better about it, not particularly myself, but the way we played,'' Khabibulin said.
After the Lightning made it 4-0, a game that was chippy and high-strung all night got even friskier, with a succession of fights and penalties as both teams tried to establish a physical tone for Game 3.
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