CALGARY - Tampa Bay had all its omens working when Brad Richards opened scoring in Game 6 with a power-play goal in the opening minutes of the second period.
Through the first five games of the Stanley Cup final, the team that scored first won. The Lightning was 30-0-2 when Richards scored a goal, including 8-0 in the playoffs. It was 10-5 when it scored a power-play goal.
Facing elimination, the Lightning could only feel good about that combination.
Early in the second period, the Lightning had killed two minor penalties and allowed the Flames only one shot with the man advantage. The sense was that it was only a matter of time before Tampa Bay would get its first powerplay chance.
With fourth-line grinders Martin Cibak, Chris Dingman and Ben Clymer on the ice, the trio did its job by keeping the puck in the Calgary zone. It was still there when Dmitry Afanasenkov came on for Clymer and, while parked in front of the net, drew an interference penalty against defenseman Jordan Leopold at 2:34.
Tampa Bay set up its power play.
"The Lightning moved the puck around and got Calgary's four-man box moving," Lightning TV analyst Bobby Taylor said. "When you're five-on-five in the offensive zone, you want to go north-south with the puck. On the power play is the only time you want the puck to go east and west, to get that box moving."
The Lightning controlled the zone. Ruslan Fedotenko's shot ricocheted off goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff and hit the post as it sailed behind the net. Later, Richards attempted a nifty give-and-go with Fedotenko, but the pass missed and headed for the blue line.
Martin St. Louis kept it in and quickly passed back to Richards below the circle to Kiprusoff's left. Richards, unpressured, settled the puck on his stick and from the red line extended fired a wrist shot in the direction of the net, hoping something good might happen.
Kiprusoff lifted his left pads just enough for the puck to slide under, but his stick remained flat on the ice. The puck, which likely would have slid harmlessly through the crease if left alone, hit Kiprusoff's stick and bounced back into the goal for a 1-0 Lightning lead at 4:17 of the second.
"They key is just getting it on the net," Taylor said. "A couple of times Kiprusoff looked very, very shaky. He was having trouble finding the puck. When you see a goalie struggling like that you have to shoot it from everywhere."
The goal was Richards' team-leading 11th of the playoffs.
The all-important first goal belonged to Tampa Bay.
The Flames rallied and sent the game to overtime before St. Louis scored the winner. But it was Richards who set the pace and made sure the Lightning never trailed. Richards' second power-play goal, unassisted at 10:52 of the second, gave Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead.
"That puts the pressure on Calgary," Taylor said, "They know they're not going to score a whole lot, that if they have to open up that's going to give Tampa a lot more opportunities."