TAMPA - The frustration was right there to be seen in the menacing snarl contorting Andrew Ference's face as he pummeled the Lightning's Cory Stillman.
Tampa Bay had taken a three-goal lead less than two minutes earlier in the third period of Game 2, and the Lightning was rampaging down ice again on a forecheck the Flames had suddenly seemed powerless to stop.
When Stillman reared for a slap shot from the slot, Flames left wing Chris Simon cross-checked him viciously from behind, and as the play continued along the boards, Ference engaged him in a long and thoroughly successful fight.
In a game in which the frustrated Flames were playing so poorly after dominating Game 1 and two days after Stillman connected an elbow with Calgary's Marcus Nilson, it seemed like a clear-cut case of payback. Not at all, Ference said, it's the Stanley Cup final.
"It's hockey," he said. "I'm a hockey player. It's our style. Read it as you want. It was a fight and there were lots of fights tonight."
That part you can believe. Of the 124 penalty minutes, 108 erupted after the Lighting broke open a close game with three goals in the first six minutes of the third.
"Obviously, we weren't happy with how the game was going," Flames captain Jarome Iginla said. "We were trying to be physical, trying to raise it up a level."
Even the hitting, however, wasn't enough to ease the agitation of an amazingly stale effort by a Calgary team that entered with the chance to turn the series squarely in its favor.
After dominating the Lightning in a 4-1 series-opening win, the Flames had the chance to go back home for Game 3 with a commanding 2-0 lead. Even if it had lost, a somewhat competitive performance could have allowed Calgary to maintain some control. But in a series that hints of twists and turns, the Flames found themselves seeking answers to the same questions Tampa Bay faced Tuesday.
The answer, said center Stephane Yelle, is in the basics.
"We've got to get back to the game plan," Yelle said. "We have to be composed. We have to be focused."
Iginla, the playoff goals leader with 11, was shut down after a few early chances. He was held to two shots in 21:34. Tampa Bay's big scorers - Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier - combined for two goals and four assists.
After scoring first and then shutting the Lightning down with a nagging trap defense Tuesday, the Flames allowed their first first-period goal in 10 games and were outworked in the corners too much to maintain pressure.
"We got outworked, outmuscled and outscored," said left wing Ville Nieminen, who scored the Flames' goal. "Now we're out of Tampa."
Going scoreless on four first-period power plays was the bad start to a bad end.
"We lost a lot of chances to make a difference," Iginla said.
Several players questioned the focus. Calgary had a similar meltdown at the end of Game 3 in the West final, a 3-0 home loss. The Flames dropped the next game to squander a 2-0 series lead before regaining their composure.
"In our locker room there is no finger-pointing," Nieminen said. "Whoever felt that they were outworked ... needs to be better. There's 20 guys."