Wed, Jun 02, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Khabibulin saves the Lightning

STANLEY CUP FINALS Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin and Tampa Bay are at their best when cornered, going 6-0 after a loss while out-scoring their victims 18-5


Flames left winger Martin Gelinas, center ,dives for rebound shot against Lightning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, right, during the first period of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals in Calgary, Canada, Monday. Lightning defender Darryl Sydor looks on. Tampa Bay won the game 1-0, which ties up the best-of-seven series 2-2.


Nikolai Khabibulin has never had a bigger save -- he may have saved the Tampa Bay Lightning's run to the Stanley Cup.

Khabibulin was again at his best when the Lightning are in trouble, staying undefeated following a loss in carrying Tampa Bay to a series-tying 1-0 victory over the Calgary Flames in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final Monday night.

Brad Richards scored during a two-man advantage in the opening three minutes, his fourth game-winning goal following a Lightning loss. Khabibulin made the all-important goal stand up by tying Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff with his fifth playoff shutout this spring. He had 29 saves.

Richards' 10th goal of the postseason was his seventh game-winner, breaking the record he previously shared with Joe Sakic (1996) and Joe Nieuwendyk (1999). The Lightning are 30-0-2 overall and 8-0 in the playoffs when Richard scores.

The Lightning would have been in desperate straits if they had gone down 3-1, as only the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1942 overcame that disadvantage in the final. It didn't help they were without two key regulars, forward Ruslan Fedotenko and defensemen Pavel Kubina, who were injured in Calgary's 3-0 victory Saturday.

"There was a lot of desperation, especially with a couple of key players out," defenseman Jassen Cullimore said. "During our video session today, it was, `Let's get the what-ifs out of our vocabulary ... and make sure that we got it done.'"

Khabibulin and the Lightning are at their best when cornered, going 6-0 after a loss while outscoring their opponents 18-5. They also kept alternating wins and losses, something they've done since splitting the first two games of the Eastern Conference final against Philadelphia.

"When you lose a game, you get desperate," the Lightning's Martin St. Louis said. ``We take every game like it's a must-win. ... We haven't lost two in a row in a while."

Even without the injured Fedotenko, who has 10 playoff goals, and Kubina, who plays an average of 22 minutes, Tampa Bay pressured from the start, something it couldn't do in Game 3. It paid off with the opening goal -- a big momentum lift given that the winning team has scored first in all four games.

Calgary also tried to establish its physical, hard-checking style immediately, just as it did in wearing down the Lightning in Game 3, but Chris Clark (cross checking) and Mike Commodore (holding) both drew penalties just 1:52 in.

Tampa Bay, 0-for-3 on the power play during the first period Saturday, scored on the 5-on-3 with Richards powering a one-timer from just above the hash mark past Kiprusoff as the goalie was screened by Vincent Lecavalier. It was only the second time in 12 games Calgary has allowed a goal in the first period.

"If they kill that off, it may have been the game," Richards said.

It was another good omen for the Lightning, who are 12-2 when scoring first. They played almost Calgary-like once they did, working just as hard to prevent a goal as they did to try to score another.

"It's [score] the first goal and then defend it, right?" Calgary coach Darryl Sutter said. "It's the same thing we do."

Calgary did everything but score in the first period before an electric, all-in-red crowd of 19,221 that began cheering an hour before the game. The Flames had 12 shots in the period, 10 more than in Game 3, and even had a good chance short-handed late in the period when Ville Nieminen got loose on a breakaway only to have the puck skip off his stick before he could get off a back-hander.

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