Bolts must match Flames' desire
CALGARY, Alberta -- The Tampa Bay Lightning have gone to great lengths to re-create their home locker room in the bowls of the Saddledome.
|STILLMAN RETURNS TO LINEUP|
|Cory Stillman will be re-inserted into the Lightning lineup for Game 6. The left winger was a surprise healthy scratch for Game 5. Though Stillman's defensive play has been noteworthy, his lack of offensive contribution likely figured in the decision. Stillman said he spoke with the coaching staff about the move but wouldn't reveal the details of the conversation or who he'd be replacing. Stillman hasn't scored a goal since May 14 vs. Philadelphia. "Definitely I want to produce (offensively), but the biggest thing is to win," he said. "Obviously it's a game we need to win."|
Also hanging in the dressing room is "Luctor et emergo," Latin for "I wrestle and emerge."
It sits, appropriately enough, above the equipment stalls of Brad Richards and Vincent Lecavalier, the Lightning's two young scoring stars. In the hours before Game 6 against the Calgary Flames, and possible elimination in the Stanley Cup finals, it is both meaningless and totally apropos.
It's meaningless in the sense that the time for slogans, pet phrases and cheerleading is over. Tampa Bay's only focus and only option right now is to win. One can sense the team has come to grips with that. One win begets one more chance, and it will come only from skill, execution, desire and talent; what the Lightning have used to build themselves matters little now.
The Flames have been the better team thus far. They don't live off motivational bumper stickers. They live off playing their game. They play hard in every area of the game and on every inch of the ice. They do whatever it takes to make a play, score a goal or prevent one, and to get a physical or psychological edge.
The Lightning have wrestled with doing the same.
There are many Tampa Bay players who fit that bill, but Richards and Lecavalier, two of the most talented on the team, personify it.
Richards is tied for the most points in the playoffs and owns the league playoff record for game winners in a single playoff year with seven. Tampa Bay has won every game in which he's scored a goal. But there have been times in this series when the Flames have neutralized his contributions by marking him hard on the check, refusing to let him get into scoring position when the clubs are playing five-on-five and by physically pounding him at every point on the ice.
The same could be said, perhaps more so, of Lecavalier, who is perhaps the most skilled player for either team. He's slipped out of the playoff points race during the series and has dropped to fourth on his own team.
"We haven't asked our players to do more," said Lightning associate coach Craig Ramsay. "We've asked them to do better. There's a difference and they have to come to know that."
In pregame conversations Saturday, Lecavalier indicated his understanding.
When asked what he needed to do to help his team win he responded with one of the all-time hockey clichés: "shoot the puck more." Then he paused and pointed out that there is more to it than just firing from every point on the ice.
"To get more shots, I have to create more opportunities," he said. "That's easy to say, but to do that I have to penetrate better. I have to take or get the puck to the net more. I have to compete even harder, because if you don't compete for the opportunity to shoot more you don't get those chances."
That kind of thinking would seem to be a growth spurt for the Lightning, a team that works hard but also relies on skill. That the Flames have the edge in the series because they've outworked the Lightning appeared to be something of a revelation to the team from Tampa Bay.
Not any longer. After wrestling with that fact, the Lightning emerged with a consensus understanding: Working hard isn't good enough if the other team works harder.
"It's been an intense series and we expected that, but maybe we didn't expect it from so many of their players," said Tim Taylor, often the voice of the Lightning's conscience. "We knew they could hit, but the Philadelphia Flyers could hit too and we handled that. The difference I think is that the Flyers maybe had five or six guys who would do that. This team, every guy does it. Every guy plays hard and finishes his check and does whatever it takes.
"I think we've addressed that. I think we're ready."
If the Lightning do emerge -- and force the league to pack up the Stanley Cup and haul it back to Tampa for Game 7 on Monday -- it will take an effort that's been on display only occasionally in this series. The Lightning have shown they're capable of playing hard, the question is whether or not they are willing to play as hard as the Flames -- or as long.
The Flames, playing before a near-rabid home crowd, have been approaching every game as they have Game 6: 60 minutes of hard work ends it here and now. It's quite possible they will play their best, most physical game tonight.
Aside from the mental and physical aspects of the game, the Lightning need to deal with Calgary's soft trap and use their speed to defeat it. They need to answer Calgary's tactic of chipping the puck out of its own zone off the glass or flipping it out into the neutral zone.
When Calgary does those things, the Lightning don't seem to have a plan as to how to recover and regroup. Calgary's plan is simple: dump it, target the area it's going to and simply knock bodies down on the way there. If they recover the puck, they go on offense; if they don't, they move to defense, all the while hitting the closest player wearing a Tampa Bay sweater.
Lightning players know they have to recover better and faster. They can't wait to construct a complicated passing play that allows them to enter the zone with an odd-man rush or a tic-tac-toe pass. They need to play a little more like the Flames, take the man, and then get the puck and go. If they get it to the net, something may happen. It may not be Lecavalier on a two-on-one or Richards finding an opening from the high slot on a five-on-three power play, but it will be an opportunity. As the Flames proved in their Game 5 overtime win in Tampa, anything can happen once you get it there.
"We know where we're at," said Lightning coach John Tortorella. "It's still a series and we're not dead yet. We feel we are a good club so it's a matter of a two-and-a-half-hour segment here, a 60-minute hockey game, to find a way to win."
Before the Lightning face the Flames on the ice, they must wrestle with themselves and the idea of doing whatever it takes to win.
Only then can they emerge with a win.
Jim Kelley is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.