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Modin a frustrated witness to the struggle

Published May 30, 2004

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Gary Shelton: Modin a frustrated witness to the struggle
John Romano: Urgency must replace Lightning's resiliency
Feisty Flames come ready for a rumble
From Vermont, with passion
Game 3: period by period
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Richards sets aside everything for son
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The pinch that didn't pay
Tortorella can't take Pratt out of lineup

Click on each score for the main story from each game
(Lightning wins series 4-3)
Tuesday [5/25]: Calgary 4, Tampa Bay 1
Thursday [5/27]: Tampa Bay 4, Calgary 1
Saturday [5/29]: Calgary 3, Tampa Bay 0
Monday [5/31]: Tampa Bay 1, Calgary 0

CALGARY - The closer one gets to heaven, it seems, the more likely he is to resent the alternative.

Understand, then, the pained, punished face of Fredrik Modin as he considered the night that was and the night that could have been. The wicked scar under his left eye was still evident, but that was yesterday's discomfort. Modin had fresher wounds.

The Stanley Cup teased Modin on Saturday night. It winked at him, and it raised its glass, and it invited him to come over and spend some time in the spotlight.

Then, cruel and cold, it turned its back on him.

If you think the Lightning's 3-0 defeat at the hands of a gritty, tough Calgary team was difficult to watch, you should have seen it from the eyes of Modin. For most of the night, Modin was all around success, and all he kept seeing was disappointment.

There was the scoring chance that got away, the save he tried to make, the pass that was just out of his reach. A half-step here, a few inches there, and perhaps it could have been different for Modin. Perhaps it could have been different for the Lightning.

They are neighbors, success and disappointment. On a night like this, a player can think he's playing in one yard, and it turns out he's in the other.

"It's frustrating," Modin said. "Especially when you get your chances and things don't go your way. You can't let opportunities pass. You never know how many you're going to have."

Modin was on the front porch of opportunity for most of the night. Consider, for instance, Modin's chance early in the second period.

For the Lightning, open ice was difficult to find for most of the night. But 41/2 minutes into the second period, Modin found himself in front of the net with nothing but time, space and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff to contend with. Frankly, Modin had time to line up a putt. But his shot was high, and Kiprusoff batted it away.

"It was a good chance," Modin said. "Cory (Sarich) made a great play to get the puck to me. I wanted to pass the puck back to him, but I took too long, and I started to lose my balance to my stick side. I had to shoot it, and he got a glove on it."

After that chance, the Flames seemed to control play in the second period. Ten minutes later, Chris Simon flew down the right side of the ice, and Modin sprawled headfirst to try to block the puck.

Simon's first shot bounced off Modin's hip. The second one hit his chest, then ricocheted off his chin. But Simon was able to tuck his third try into the net for the all-important first goal - the Flames are 12-1 in the playoffs when they have scored first - and the Flames turned into the pit bulls they become when they have the lead.

Three minutes after Simon's goal, Modin had a chance to tie. He was in his usual spot, absorbing elbows into the ribs in front of the net. Vinny Lecavalier, behind the goal, tried to center the puck to him, but the pass went behind Modin, and the puck went down the ice, leading to Shean Donovan's goal and a 2-0 lead.

Such are the plays that haunt an athlete. It is better to go hungry than to see someone else steal your supper. It is less frustrating to fall a thousand miles from victory than to be close enough to taste it. Modin was as close as a short putt to most of the game's key plays.

No, Modin didn't cost his team the game. He was just the nearest witness. He was Zelig, always near history, never quite making it himself. That, in itself, is a particular frustration.

"We have to play better," Modin said. "All of us. We've been too up-and-down."

Yes, that includes Modin. He has not been as sharp lately as he was in the early going. He was a monster against the Islanders, a force against the Canadiens and a back-breaker against the Flyers. There for a while, he was his team's versatile player, perhaps its most valuable.

His series-winning goal against the Flyers in Game 7, however, is Modin's only goal in his last six games. As the games get more physical, the Lightning depends increasingly on Modin to match the size of the moment.

Odd that it is now the world turns to Modin. Most of the time, it doesn't notice him. He is 6 feet 4, 220 pounds, and most of the time, reporters rush past Modin's locker to get to Vinny's or Marty's or Dave's.

Ask the rest of the Lightning players the team's most underappreciated player and you'll hear Modin's name a lot. He scored 29 goals this season, and who talked about any of them? He played on both ends of the ice, and did you ever see him in a highlight?

Under the circumstances, you could argue that the Lightning has never needed Modin - or a lot of other players - as badly as it needs him now. The Flames can smell blood. They are one victory away from a 3-1 series lead, and from there, a team can see the mountaintop. You can expect Calgary to come out rough and tumble on Monday night. If the Lightning is to withstand the punishment, it will be up to players such as Modin.

You mention Modin's frustration to teammate Tim Taylor. Taylor nods.

"That's good," Taylor said. "But it's good he's frustrated. That tells me he's a winner. He's taking it on himself instead of pointing it at someone else. It's because of that team concept that we're going to get back in this thing."

We'll see. In sports, there is a simple formula for dealing with bad memories.

Replace them with better ones.

[Last modified May 30, 2004, 01:16:00]

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