Andreychuk preps Bolts for biggest test

TAMPA, Fla. -- Since the Eastern Conference finals began, Tampa Bay Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk has given the same old answers to the same old questions. About how he still loves to play as much at 40 as he did at 20. About how, yes, he has played longer than any other player who hasn't won a Stanley Cup.

But as the series against the stubborn, crotchety old Philadelphia Flyers started to wear on, the questions started to center in on his counterpart captain in this series -- Keith Primeau.

Even the unromantic Andreychuk would have to agree that Primeau is the primary reason the Flyers are still around. He leads them in playoff goals and timely acts of courage. He leads them in big hits and clutch acts of heroism. He led them back from the brink in Game 6, scoring a goal just 1:49 before would-be expiration, then helping to set up Simon Gagne's overtime goal that has brought these teams to this one final fight on a Saturday night at the Forum.

Sure, Primeau has been talked about as an ultimate leader in this series, and maybe Andreychuk -- a minus-2 with no shots on goal in the Flyers' 5-4 overtime win Thursday -- was tired of hearing so much about the other guy and decided to check in with a little leadership himself.

Mustering up some of his own ages-old spring experience, Andreychuk immediately tried to wipe away the soot of the Game 6 loss by talking to his teammates about what it means to play in a Game 7, always a special spring event made all the more glamorous by what's at stake -- a trip to the Stanley Cup finals.

"Dave kind of hit the nail on the head," said fellow Lightning veteran Tim Taylor, who along with Andreychuk is one of eight Tampa players to have gone through a Game 7 test, compared to 17 for the Flyers. "He said he doesn't remember a lot of games but he does remember the Game 7s he's played in and whether he's won or lost and whether it was home or away. He said things do happen for a reason, and this maybe happened to give us an opportunity -- the luxury of playing a Game 7 -- because this is the playoffs and what more could you ask for than playing a Game 7 for the opportunity to go to the Stanley Cup finals?"

Well, they could have asked to have gotten there sooner, especially since the Calgary Flames are already there, rested, willing and able to resume playing this year's role of Playoff Overachiever.

But the Lightning aren't too far removed from that themselves. This team still has enough young players with dark memories of how not so long ago, they started their personal NHL journeys in the dampest of league cellars, that of the Southeast Division.

Now to have come so far in such a short time, they perhaps are at a disadvantage to the Flyers, who are more experienced, desperate and maybe a tad hungrier than some of Tampa's superiorly skilled kids who have their whole careers ahead of them.

All the more reason for Andreychuk -- who is playing in his 10th career Game 7, the most of any player in the series -- and those few fellow veterans in the locker room to sell this one-and-done game the way it should be sold ... for the fun of it.

"I think a lot of us are really going to enjoy it, embrace it and go after it," said Taylor. "I think that's the one thing we really stressed, was going after it. Not sitting back and kind of lulling ourselves to get through this Game 7. We want to go after it. Look at it face-on and grab hold of it.

"You see the light at the end of the tunnel. The light is there now. We're right there. We have one game to win to go to the Stanley Cup finals."

So maybe losing Game 6 wasn't so bad after all?

"This team has worked hard all year long to get home-ice advantage," Andreychuk said. "Now we have a Game 7 in our building, and if we would have started the year saying we would have a Game 7 in our building to go to the finals, we would have taken it."

True enough, but for the Lightning to make it worth their while, they not only have to recover from double-fisted jolt dealt to them by Primeau and Gagne on Thursday night, but also change the way they've allowed the Flyers to essentially control the last three games.

From a numerical perspective, this has the classic lines of a seven-game series. The teams opened the series by splitting games in each other's buildings. Neither team has won consecutive games. The Lightning have won the odd games, the Flyers the even games.

"The road to the Stanley Cup is not always smooth," said Lightning defenseman Darryl Sydor, who won two of these conference final Game 7s while playing under current Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock in Dallas in 1999 and 2000. "I've said this over and over. We took our lumps here in Game 2 and took our lumps in Game 4 and we learned from it. I think we're going to learn from our situation in Game 6. I mean, it happened for a reason. I really do believe that we have the team. We feel we can get it done. They do too, so it's going to be a matter of who gets it done."

If you go back to the start of Game 4, however, you can detect one troubling trend for Tampa -- it's been Philadelphia that has carried the vast bulk of the play.

The Flyers' forecheck has dictated the pace, and at times late in games has overwhelmed the Lightning in their defensive zone. What has buoyed the Lightning is their amazing transition game. No club in the NHL can match their speed and skill at converting the opposition's neutral zone mistake into a goal.

They leapt at those chances three times in Game 5, building a 3-0 lead but spending all of the third period holding on until finally clinching it with an empty-net goal. They did it again in Game 6, as the omnipresent Vincent Lecavalier scored off the transition early in each of the first two periods. But again the Flyers came storming back, overwhelming them in the third period ... and Nikolai Khabibulin couldn't save their hides.

As a consequence, it's back home for one final set-to. The seven-game odds say it's Tampa's turn again to win. The even-tempered confidence in the Lightning locker room doesn't argue otherwise.

So you might as well enjoy the show, no?

"If you can't get motivated now to play in a Game 7 to go to the Stanley Cup finals, you are not human," the blunt Sydor said. "That's just the way it is. You've got to be excited. The coaching staff doesn't need to motivate you. Nobody needs to motivate you. You are going to have to be excited. You've got something to go after -- the Holy Grail! One more win and then you're four [wins] away."

Four wins away. Dave Andreychuk's been hearing that for too many years, too.

Rob Parent of the Delaware County (Pa.) Times is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.