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One game, that's all

Mindful of their mantra, Lightning players want to wrap up the East final in Game 6 tonight.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published May 20, 2004

[Times photo: Dirk Shadd]
Lightning coach John Tortorella's mantra to his players has remained the same from the regular season: "One game at a time."

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PHILADELPHIA - One win. One lousy win. That is all the Lightning needs to reach the Stanley Cup final.

And with a three games to two lead over the Flyers in the East final, it has two games in which to get it done. Driver's seat? Absolutely. Comfortable? How do you feel about splinters in your butt? No one on the Lightning wants to play a Game 7 even if it is at the St. Pete Times Forum. They are emotional and unpredictable and the most dramatic, pressure-packed aspect of an emotional, unpredictable and pressure-packed postseason.

"Anything can happen in Game 7," center Tim Taylor said Wednesday. "No matter how well you play or how well the series has gone, you don't want to leave it up to one game to decide the fate of your season."

In that sense, tonight's Game 6 at the Wachovia Center might as well be a Game 7.

"Our mind-set needs to be this is it," defenseman Dan Boyle said. "Winner take all. I don't even want to think about a Game 7."

"It's now. The time is now," defenseman Darryl Sydor said. "You've got a team down 3-2. You've got to finish it off. You've got to take advantage of it."

The Lightning would seem in good position to do so.

It is 5-1 on the road. Nikolai Khabibulin is the best goalie in the playoffs, and Tampa Bay has dominated both sides of special teams. But the Lightning should be anything but secure.

Of its six goals in Games 4 and 5, none were at even strength. Five came on the power play, and one was into an empty net. The Flyers manhandled Tampa Bay in Game 4 at the Wachovia Center, and the Lightning has yet to win consecutive games in the series.

The Flyers also gained confidence from the third period of Game 5, in which they outshot Tampa Bay 15-5 before Taylor scored the empty-netter that settled a 4-2 victory.

"It wasn't one of those wins where we said we just dominated," Taylor said. "I think we felt like we got away with one probably. But we got the win."

"You continue to generate chances. And sometimes they fall, and sometimes they don't," Flyers center Keith Primeau said. "You just have to keep putting pucks on the net, keep getting traffic and find ways to score goals and win."

The Lightning must wear blinders. It is one thing to aspire to the Stanley Cup final. It is another to look ahead.

Still, wing Martin St. Louis admitted, "It's tough not to think about it. Nobody prepares you for this until you go through it. When you get this close, it's easy to watch, to be a passenger rather than driving. We just have to realize this is our time. We have to feel like that. It's no fluke that we're here. This is our time."

That is where coach John Tortorella comes in. Day after day, week after week, month after month, he has preached, ad nauseam, a mantra of "one game at a time" as a basis for his team's preparation and success.

Tortorella knows the message is bland and a cliche.

"But for us to be successful, we have to pay attention to each day and what we're doing that day," he said. "That's an absolute staple of our club, and we have to live by that.

"The team we're playing is too good for us to be looking ahead at anything. We're not good enough to be looking ahead. Our only focus right now should be Game 6. We shouldn't be looking ahead to anything else."

The Flyers certainly won't.

"We know nothing is a given. But we know what's at stake here," Flyers wing Mark Recchi said. "We want to be playing. We feel we're going to play our best game in the series and go from there. The guys are going to do whatever it takes to try to win.

"I'll say it again. We don't want to stop playing."

One lousy win.

"We can't have anything else on our minds right now," Lightning left wing Fredrik Modin said. "It's close. But it can be so far away."

[Last modified May 20, 2004, 01:01:12]

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