Calgary, fired up to start Game 5, was skating faster, passing sharper and hitting harder. The Flames scored a power play goal barely two minutes into the game for a 1-0 lead, and everyone knew what that meant.
In the first four games of the Stanley Cup final, the team that scored first led the entire way.
Game over, right?
Coach John Tortorella said many times he would use nifty scorer Martin St. Louis in a variety of ways, throwing him onto lines with different players to get Tampa Bay's league MVP candidate on the ice. The first period was dwindling when Tortorella called for St. Louis to join fourth-line forwards Martin Cibak and Chris Dingman.
Talk about an odd-man rush.
In the Lightning zone, Dingman intercepted a pass that started a Tampa Bay rush. Cibak sped through the neutral zone with the puck and, despite being hounded by defenseman Rhett Warrener, gained the Calgary zone. Warrener rode Cibak away from the net to the boards behind goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff's left.
The puck squirted around to the other side of the goal, where St. Louis picked it up and made an MVP-type play to get the Lightning back in the game. Rather than go for the typical wrap-around move of jamming the puck at the post, St. Louis carried it a few feet in front of the net and swept a backhand shot at Kiprusoff.
"I find that as you're coming in on Kiprusoff, if you shoot on him, he's very, very good at it," said Lightning TV analyst Bobby Taylor, a former NHL goalie. "But if he has to find you and then make the save, he struggles a little bit."
St. Louis' shot found the five hole, trickling through Kiprusoff's legs and over the line a split-second before Warrener and Martin Gelinas crashed the net trying to stop the puck.
"You have to go out in front of the net," Taylor said. "That was a great move. The guys who reach around and try to jam it under the stick or the glove, that rarely works. By Marty going out there, Kiprusoff has to take his stick off the ice and that opens up the five hole."
St. Louis' eighth goal tied the score with 34 seconds left in the first. Cibak and Dingman, who played 2:43 and 3:19 in the period, respectively, got assists.
Suddenly, the Lightning was in it. Outshot 11-9 and outplayed for most of the first period, Tampa Bay escaped with a tie thanks largely to the terrific play of goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who made three sensational saves after allowing the opening goal on a deflection.
For the first time in the series, the trailing team tied the score.
"That goal calms you down and you say, "Listen boys, we've got to go,' " Taylor said. "When you score like that it gets the monkey off your back. In the back of their minds they're thinking about that first goal because that's all everyone has talked about. This is the first time either team has lost the lead.
"That's huge for the Lightning's confidence."
Though Calgary took a 2-1 lead in the second, the Lightning again rallied to tie in the third. Calgary won it with Oleg Saprykin's overtime goal, but the back-and-forth nature of the game made it easily the most entertaining of the series.