Calgary good all around; Khabibulin shaky
ESPN's analysts examine Calgary's emotional edge, Jarome Iginla's dominance and Nikolai Khabibulin's struggles in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals.
It normally takes a team at least two days to decompress after a seven-game series. It looked in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals like Calgary had an advantage emotionally because of the quick turnaround Tampa Bay had to make after a grueling series against Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference finals. Tampa Bay seemed unprepared on just about every level. The Lightning were not good in battles along the boards and were outnumbered on the puck on many occasions, a sure sign they were not revved up mentallly. Their special teams, which were supposed to be an advantage, failed to show up.
Calgary was clearly better on both the power play and penalty kill, getting a goal from both units. Meanwhile, the Lightning power play looked nothing like the unit that torched the Flyers in the last round. The Flames shouldn't really be worried about a letdown in Game 2 because of their competitiveness and their goaltender -- Miikka Kiprusoff was outstanding when he had to be in Game 1. When a goalie is as good as Kiprusoff has been throughout the playoffs, a team can afford a slow start or a bad period.
Calgary's Jarome Iginla showed in Game 1 why he is perhaps the best player in the world right now. Iginla was on the ice in every situation for the Flames, working at even strength, manning the power play, killing penalties and scoring a beautiful short-handed goal. Those are the things guys like Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman and other great players did for their teams, and Iginla is proving himself worthy of being in that class. The Flames fed off that and worked relentlessly, outskating Tampa Bay and putting themselves three wins away from claiming the Stanley Cup. Who would have believed it?
As for the Lightning, they have to develop a dislike for the Flames in a hurry. The Lightning learned to hate the Flyers over the course of seven games in the Eastern Conference finals, and they have to start feeling that way about Calgary if they hope to do some things in this series. Vincent Lecavalier was the best player on the ice for the Lightning. If he continues that kind of effort in Game 2, good things will happen for him.
Calgary scored a fluke goal early in Game 1, and a goal like that can certainly rattle a goaltender, especially in his own building where expectations are high. Tampa Bay's Nikolai Khabibulin seemed to lose a little rhythm after Martin Gelinas' deflection got past him, and it seemed to affect him from that point on. He was not sharp with his communication around the net, dropped his stick a few times and misplayed several pucks behind the net. Khabibulin also juggled a few pucks up high and left some rebounds lying around, just the kind of things that create confusion for a team inside its own zone. A team must be settled in its own end to have a good, sustained attack, and those misplays did not allow the Lightning to do that.
Meanwhile, Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff was not significantly tested. Tampa tried to go high on him, but he managed to fight pucks off and push them to the corners, and Kiprusoff did not see much in the way of traffic in front of the net. The Lightning talked at length about the need to get bodies between the shooters and Kiprusoff, but that never really happened. It better in Game 2, or Kiprusoff will continue to have a field day against those unobstructed shots.