CALGARY, Alberta -- So the question is this: Can a team win a Stanley Cup without an effective power play? How about without even a threatening power play?
The Calgary Flames made it all the way to the finals on the strength of pain-inflicting defensemen, a sparkling transition game, and one blazing superstar in Jarome Iginla. Unfortunately for the C of Red, only one of those elements helps significantly on the man-advantage. A 1-for-7 performance against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 2 -- including 0-for-5 in the first 21 minutes -- left the Flames 11-for-95 (11.6 percent efficiency) in these playoffs. Too bad for Calgary this isn't the NFL, where penalties can be declined.
"The games we play well," said the candid Shean Donovan on the eve of Saturday's Game 3, "we play 5-on-5 the whole game."
He's right. Think of the best Flames goals during the playoffs: Ville Nieminen's peel and dish to Marcus Nilson in San Jose, or Iginla's short-handed breakaway in Tampa. These goals were scored in transition and off turnovers, with the Flames turning backchecking into an odd-man rush the other way. Assistant coach Jim Playfair will be the first to admit the team is at top form when it starts its offense in the opposing zone. That doesn't happen on the power play.
The Lightning have clued in. They let Iginla roam in Game 1, but in Game 2 they made a more conscious effort to close him off.
"We made it tough for them to get Iginla the puck," said Chris Dingman. "We took his time and space away."
If the Flames had a Nicklas Lidstrom or a Rob Blake running the point, Tampa Bay would be forced to stretch their penalty-killing unit a bit more. That would free Iginla and his devastating shot. But for all the power and skill the Flames have back on the blue line, they do not have a fear-inducing playmaker. Blue-chip prospect Dion Phaneuf, a Red Deer Rebel with 43 points in 62 games this season, will provide that element in years to come, but for whatever reason -- money, contract problems, lack of experience -- he's not in a Flames uniform yet. So Calgary will have to figure out another way to set up its captain.
"If you break it down," Iginla said after Game 2, "our power play had a chance to make a difference. But all the way around, they outcompeted. We've got to be sharper, we've got to be more intense. It's happened to us before. They were more desperate than us and they deserved to win."
And it's not just scoring goals. Tampa Bay, like every team, uses some of its best players on the penalty kill. A better Flames power play would at least tire them out, so that the next even-strength shift becomes that much more of a struggle. The Lightning showed that in Game 2, scoring only a few seconds after the end of an unsuccessful Flames power play.
Can a team win a Stanley Cup without an effective power play? Sure: The New Jersey Devils did it last year (13-for-84, 15.5 percent), but the Anaheim Mighty Ducks weren't able to (8-for-70, 11.4 percent).
Can a team win a Stanley Cup without an effective power play over a team with a superb man-advantage? In an otherwise even series? In a best-of-seven where every period feels like overtime? In a finals where the first goal seems more like two or three?
The Flames would probably rather not find out.
Eric Adelson is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org