CALGARY - Facing a must-win situation, the Lightning did not have to wait long for the opportunity it had to seize.
For two full minutes.
Capitalize, and the Lightning would have the all-important first goal.
Playing without Ruslan Fedotenko, the Lightning juggled the forwards on its four lines, mixing and matching for maximum effect. Oddly enough, it was an all-wing line that created the first scoring chance.
Dmitry Afanasenkov shot, and when Fredrik Modin crashed the net for a rebound, he drew a holding penalty against defenseman Mike Commodore. The Lightning had its first power play just 1:52 into the game.
But that wasn't all.
After the whistle, Chris Clark put the Flames in deeper trouble by cross-checking Nolan Pratt and giving Tampa Bay a five-on-three.
Sensing a golden opportunity, Tampa Bay put its top scoring threats on the ice: Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier, captain Dave Andreychuk, the NHL's record-holder for power-play goals, and defenseman Dan Boyle.
Calgary countered with Stephane Yelle, its best defensive center, and top defensemen Andrew Ference and Rhett Warrener.
"In five-on-three, the three guys will play a triangle. And it's a revolving triangle so that the point is always where the puck is," Lightning TV analyst Bobby Taylor said. "The key is puck movement. Move it fast, you're bound to get that open shot."
Andreychuk won the first faceoff in the Calgary zone, and the Lightning controlled the puck for the next 56 seconds. It kept pressure on the outnumbered Flames by making 18 passes, taking four shots and faking one.
Deftly moving the puck around the zone to catch the Flames out of position, the Lightning got the shooting lane it was looking for with Richards at the point.
"Sometimes, it's tough getting an early power play because guys are not really warmed up yet," Boyle said. "But we were patient. We moved the puck around. And if there was anybody we wanted to shoot the puck, it was Brad Richards."
Richards one-timed a pass from Andreychuk down low, and the puck found its way through traffic in front of the net, including Lecavalier and three defenders.
Tampa Bay led 1-0 at 2:48.
"I tried to pull the trigger a couple of times. But one time, the puck bounced, and one time, I hit shin pads," said Richards, who tied Fedotenko for the team lead with his 10th playoff goal and set an NHL record with his seventh winner. "We stayed patient, and I kept drifting in closer and closer. On that last one, I had a wide-open lane."
The team to score first won the first three games of the series.
Now make it four.
Tampa Bay is 12-2 in the playoffs when it scores first. The Flames are 2-8 when the opponent scores first. Though few would have anticipated a goal in the first three minutes would hold up as the winner, it gave the Lightning the early confidence it needed.
"It was an important goal because we had a five-on-three," Richards said. "You get a chance to have a five-on-three in the playoffs, you've got to score."