Coaches must manage mental approach

Updated: May 31, 2004, 7:32 PM ET
ESPN.com

ESPN's Barry Melrose looks at the approaches of Tampa Bay's John Tortorella and Calgary's Darryl Sutter heading into Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals, which the Flames lead 2-1:

Barry Melrose
Admitting it or not, Game 4 is a must-win
No matter what he might say, a coach knows his team is in a must-win situation when it's down 2-1 heading into Game 4 of a playoff series. Tampa Bay's John Tortorella is fully aware of the difficulty of coming back from a 3-1 deficit -- especially against a hot goaltender like Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff -- and so are his players.

What Tortorella needs to do is make sure his players don't buy into the talk that a series is all but over every time the team loses a game. He is no doubt reminding his players that it takes four wins to close out a series, not two, which some people forget because hockey is such an emotional game. When a team suffers a loss like Tampa's 3-0 shutout in Game 3, it seems impossible to recover from such a momentum swing.

But we've seen over the first three games of the finals that both teams are capable of rebounding after a bad loss, and Tortorella is likely telling his team, "Look, we've already recovered from emotional losses against Philadelphia and Calgary and we can do it again in Game 4."

Tortorella and his players also know that changing just one small series of events could have had them leading the series. If Brad Richards had beaten Kiprusoff on a shorthanded breakaway in the second period of Game 3, Calgary would not have taken the puck back down the ice on the same sequence and gotten a power-play goal from Chris Simon. If that had happened, we would be talking about the Lightning being sky-high after a win and the Flames being down and out.

That is something Tampa can build on heading into Game 4. But at the same time, the Bolts have to forget about the last game and be ready for the next one -- which they will be after a day off to think about things. Look for them to respond and play very well.

As for Calgary coach Darryl Sutter, he doesn't have to do a thing to keep his team up, especially in its own building. The Flames simply need to avoid getting in trouble by trying to do too much and thus giving the Lightning easy opportunities. They played a great game last time out, nothing too pretty but not a lot of mistakes either, and they even got two rare power-play goals. Sutter is telling his team to go out and do the same thing this time around. Calgary is a team that thrives on outworking opponents, and if the Flames do so again in Game 4, they will be just fine.

Been there, don't want to do that again
While Tim Taylor is one of the few players on the Lightning who has won the Stanley Cup (Detroit, 1997), he also has been on the losing end in the Stanley Cup finals. It's that experience that the Lightning are drawing from in Game 4.

"After we lost [the first game] to New Jersey, the series seemed to fly by before we could grab control of it," Taylor said, referring to being swept by the Devils as a member of the Red Wings in 1995. "That's one thing we talked about after Game 1; it's that these playoffs can go so quick, let's relax here and let's make sure we go out and win Game 2. And that's the same thing that's going on tonight. The same thing. Because next thing you know, it's done."

It's a Canadian thing, but ...
Lightning defenseman Nolan Pratt understands Canada's support of the Flames in the Stanley Cup finals.

He was born in Fort McMurray, Alberta, not far from Calgary. Like most Canadian kids, he grew up living the Stanley Cup dream. It's just that now he's living out his dream while playing for the other side.

"Hockey is Canada's game, I don't deny that. Actually, I like it and understand it," Pratt said. "It's exciting to come up here, and it's amazing to experience everything that's going on around the city. For a guy who grew up in Canada, it's just as exciting to me as it is for the people out there, maybe more so. Everyone is so into it.

"I'm not sure people in the States can understand how huge it is, but at the same time we want to win too. In the end, it comes down to that. It's great for Canada and all, but it comes down to who wants to win. We want it as much as they do. It's hard to win, really, if you don't want it more."

Even Calgary's speed kills
Sutter and Tortorella don't mind an occasional outbreak of fisticuffs in a game, even if it's in the Stanley Cup finals. On Monday, Sutter made a point of noting that fighting is not why the Flames win.

"Do you think that has anything to do with this series?" he asked, as yet another questioner brought him back to the Game 2 fight between his best player, Jarome Iginla, and one of Tampa Bay's best, Vincent Lecavalier. "We're a fast team. When we don't skate, we're not a very good team. That's the bottom line that gets overlooked with our team.

"Anybody can play physical, but if you are not fast, you are not going to be at this stage. If anything, we have learned as we went along in the playoffs that our speed is a factor. It was absolutely the reason that we beat Detroit. It was a huge factor in Game 7 against Vancouver. And against San Jose, they believed they were faster than us and we proved them wrong. It had nothing to do with the physical aspect of the game."

No fraternizing with the enemy
Though the competitive nature of the series doesn't afford much time for fraternizing with the "enemy," Sutter, who is also Calgary's general manager, acknowledges a businesslike relationship with Tampa Bay GM Jay Feaster.

"If you look at the similarities between our teams, when I have talked to Jay during the year, you know, it is because we were both in similar situations in terms of farm teams and where we can put our players, what we can allocate in terms of money, you know, to the development and things like that," Sutter said. "There's a business relationship between the general managers, no question, and with the coach."

Sutter said the limited contact between East and West teams has kept him from establishing any real relationship with Tortorella. He made it clear he's not about to start one now, but asked whether he admired his opponent, he had a typical no-nonsense answer:

"Damn right," he said.

It's not over until the last news conference
Sutter doesn't tolerate his media obligations very well -- or those of the team. Though he isn't concerned with the perception he gives off while he's enduring the formal sessions, he's less than surly in a less formal environment.

"I just try and, you know -- you know, quite honest, hey, you guys know how I am with the media," he said. "If it's one-on-one, I love to be able to help you with anything. But to be quite honest, I rather not have to do it, you know that. I'd rather have all the other coaches up here talking to you."

While player interviews at the start of intermissions separates hockey from other sports, accommodating rights holders during the Stanley Cup finals has been a little distracting.

"[As long as] there's five of us and five of them, so there's 10 in the room," Sutter said. "I am serious. Hey, it's part of the Stanley Cup finals, but you know, we have had two instances where we haven't got players back to the bench in time to start periods. Wow."