Bolts overcome absence of two key players

Originally Published: May 31, 2004
By E.J. Hradek | ESPN The Magazine

CALGARY, Alberta -- Down two games to one in the Stanley Cup finals, in a hostile building on the road with two key players (defenseman Pavel Kubina and left wing Ruslan Fedotenko) suddenly sidelined by injury, the Tampa Bay Lightning were up against it.

But, as they've proven all year, this Lightning team is a pretty resilient bunch.

"It was ugly as hell, but we found a way," said Lightning coach John Tortorella, like a proud father, after his club held on for a series-tying 1-0 win over the Calgary Flames in a bitterly contested Game 4 at the Pengrowth Saddledome. "[The players] knew there were a couple of big guys out, so they really sucked it up and bonded together to get it done."

The loss of Fedotenko, which was anticipated after he was plastered to the sideboards on a clean hit by Flames defenseman Robyn Regehr in the third period of Game 3, forced Tortorella to juggle his lines throughout the evening. He rotated three lines for most of the game, occasionally mixing in a fourth trio of center Martin Cibak, left wing Chris Dingman and right wing Ben Clymer. Cibak had played in just two playoff games, and Clymer had made only one playoff appearance (in the first round against the New York Islanders).

"I thought the guys that came into the lineup did a great job for us," said Bolts captain Dave Andreychuk, who logged 19:19 minutes of ice time. "They gave us a lot of energy. They've been chomping at the bit, watching. I think both Cibak and Clymer did an outstanding job of getting on the puck and having some good shifts."

With Fedotenko on the sidelines, Tortorella occasionally used his top three forwards -- Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards and Vincent Lecavalier -- on the same line. Tortorella started the trio, with Richards working on the left wing instead of his usual spot in the middle. Throughout the game, there were precious few shifts where one of the Bolts' big three wasn't on the ice.

"It has been a battle," said St. Louis, who played a team-high 22:49 and has been a constant target for the burly Regehr. "Afterwards, if you win, it's fun; but these games have been a battle."

The loss of Kubina, who was a late scratch with an undisclosed injury (officially a lower body injury, but there were whispers that he may have suffered a concussion in Game 3), forced Tortorella to go back to six defensemen. Since Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Philadelphia Flyers, when Jassen Cullimore returned to the lineup, Tortorella had been dressing seven blueliners.

There was one catch, however. Because Kubina plays the right side, one of the four left-side defenders would have to switch sides.

In the end, veteran Darryl Sydor, playing in his fourth Cup final, moved from left to right, pairing with Cullimore. In his career, Sydor has played almost exclusively on the left side. Lightning assistant coach Craig Ramsay said Sydor was moved because of his experience and hockey smarts. Still, the switch isn't as easy as you might think.

"It's different," says Sydor, who led all Bolts blueliners with 22:31 of ice time. "On the left side [as a left shot], I have the whole ice on my forehand. On the other side, my forehand is against the boards.

"I was trying to keep it simple," he continued. "I made some mistakes, but I just tried to battle through it."

As a team, the Lightning battled through a basket full of adversity in Game 4. Now, with the series tied, they're going to enjoy the extra day of rest before the series resumes in Tampa on Thursday.

"I think the two days off are important for both teams," Sydor said. "It's a long trip. There's a lot of emotion on both sides. I think it will be good for everybody to have that extra day to refuel." Goodbye Nieminen?
It will be interesting to see whether the league decides to issue a suspension to Flames left wing Ville Nieminen for his dirty third-period hit on Lecavalier, who left the ice under his own power but didn't return to the game in the final 4:13 of regulation time.

The hit, clearly a dumb and dangerous play, likely will be a bone of contention in the days leading up to Game 5.

After the game, Flames coach Darryl Sutter felt the hit from behind merited only a two-minute penalty.

"It's called a five-minute penalty because they [the referees] react to the player going down," Sutter said. "It's a two-minute penalty."

Tortorella (and anyone with clear vision) would take issue with Sutter's assessment.

"I think you saw the play," Tortorella said, when asked about the hit. "I don't think I need to say anything about it."

Nieminen was issued a one-game suspension during the conference semifinals for charging Detroit Red Wings goalie Curtis Joseph in the final seconds of Game 4.

Lecavalier did not speak to the media after the game.

Richards rolls on
The Lightning continue to be unbeatable when Richards finds the back of the net. With the Game 4 win, the Lightning improved to 8-0 in the playoffs when he scores a goal. On the season (including the postseason), Tampa Bay is 30-0-2 in games when Richards lights the lamp.

Richards' goal was his seventh game-winning goal of the playoffs, establishing a league postseason record for winning goals in a single playoff season, breaking the old mark shared by Joe Sakic and Joe Nieuwendyk.

For his part, Richards didn't want to say too much about the record.

"I've answered it a lot," said Richards, when asked about the mark. "It's not like I scored seven in a row in overtime. Some of those goals were scored early in the game. You just can't control whether or not they're going to be game-winners."

As for this game-winner, Richards said he found some room and shot the puck.

"I think Rhett Warrener was on the blocker side," Richards explained. "So, I couldn't shoot there. There was a lane on the glove side, and I shot it there."

It's Khabibulin's turn
Both Lightning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin and Flames stopper Miikka Kiprusoff have shown an uncanny ability to come up with a big effort after a loss. Kiprusoff was bulletproof in Game 3.

In Game 4, Khabibulin came up with a rock-solid performance, stopping 29 shots en route to his fifth shutout of the post season. Behind the "Bulin Wall," the Bolts are a perfect 6-0 after a loss in the playoffs. In those rebound games, Khabibulin has a 0.83 goals-against average and a .968 save percentage.

Khabibulin's steady play has been one reason the Lightning haven't lost back-to-back games in the postseason. In fact, Tampa hasn't dropped two straight games since March 20-21.

"I thought this was Nik's best game of this round," Tortorella said. "He was outstanding tonight."

EJ Hradek covers hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com. Also, click here to send EJ a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.

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