TAMPA, Fla. -- In Game 7 of a Stanley Cup finals, anything can happen. A winner emerges from the opportunistic bounce of a puck, a loser spends years replaying mistakes that occur in a millisecond yet alter the outcome of an entire season.
OK, so that's the story line portrayed before all finals Game 7s, including Monday's Calgary-Tampa Bay game in Tampa.
Usually, though, it's only a myth.
If history holds up, the Lightning not only forced Monday night's win-or-else game with their 3-2 double-overtime victory Saturday over Calgary, they effectively won the Stanley Cup.
Of the 10 Stanley Cup finals Game 7s since 1950 -- so long ago, even Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk wasn't playing yet -- nine were won by the home team. The 1971 Montreal Canadiens were the only exception, winning Game 7 in Chicago to complete their comeback from a 3-2 series deficit.
Overall, home teams are 10-2 in championship Game 7s, with the 1945 Maple Leafs being the only other road winners.
Of course, home ice has meant almost nothing in these finals, with both the Flames and Lightning going 1-2 in their own arenas. Calgary won Game 5 in overtime Thursday in Tampa before the Lightning broke the hearts of hundreds of thousands of Stanley Cup celebrants-in-waiting in Calgary by winning Game 6.
Still, in what may be the last NHL game for many months if a labor dispute disrupts or shuts down the 2004-05 season, there is no doubt the Lightning would rather be home.
"I hate it when you open a series at home, but Game 7, that's when it gets to be your advantage," Bolts coach John Tortorella said Sunday. "It's a proper way to end this series, to play a Game 7."
The Flames' challenge is to shake off what possibly was the loss of a lifetime -- the blown opportunity to win the Cup at home Saturday -- and regain the confidence they took into Game 5 in Tampa.
They also need better games from their best players, nearly all of whom who were outplayed by the Lightning's stars in Game 6. Brad Richards scored two goals, and NHL scoring champion Martin St. Louis got the game-winner in the opening minute of the second overtime.
It won't help Calgary if Robyn Regehr, one of the league's best young defensemen, can't play because of a foot or ankle injury that occurred Saturday. The team did not disclose his status.
"It's not easy, and it's not supposed to be easy," said Flames captain Jarome Iginla, who acknowledged not playing well Saturday. "This is tough stuff. It's emotional and it's exciting. A lot of us have played Game 7s in our minds growing up, and now we get a chance to play it for real."
The Flames might not be playing at all if a deflection by Martin Gelinas that may have crossed the goal line midway through the third period had been ruled a goal. The NHL said after the game that replays were inconclusive.
While Calgary fans debated deep into the night whether the puck eluded goalie Nikolai Khabibulin and went across the goal line, as ABC's telecast suggested, Flames coach Darryl Sutter didn't argue.
"They [the league] have the same replays, six or seven views, that we have and it's deemed inconclusive or not conclusive," Sutter said Sunday. "That's fine. I understand that."
Gelinas was disappointed after watching a replay, but said, "It's the card we were dealt, and we've got to move on. ... We've got a huge game."
While the Flames can become Canada's first Stanley Cup champion since the 1993 Canadiens, the Lightning are trying for the first Sun Belt championship. They have alternated winning and losing for a record 13 consecutive games, including a 2-1 victory over Philadelphia in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
"We played a very good Game 7 our last one, and obviously we have to come up with another one," said Andreychuk, who has played a record 1,758 games without winning the Cup.
Tampa Bay also must deal with Calgary's ability to play its patient, wait-for-a-mistake style that has led to its record-tying 10-3 road record.
"They are going to say that the Cup is in the building, that everybody is there to watch us [win]," St. Louis said. "But I think we learned a lesson in Game 5. We looked at what would happen if we won that and that we could maybe clinch in Calgary ... and we forgot about playing the game."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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