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Saprykin, like his favorite cafe, now a hot item

The 23-year-old forward has been a key factor late in the series.

Published June 8, 2004

[Times photo: Dirk Shadd]

Oleg Saprykin double-parked his silver BMW in the valet loop of a downtown Calgary hotel late Saturday afternoon, ducked into the lobby and queued up for his pregame guilty pleasure.

Swathed in a sharp charcoal suit and rectangular sunglasses, he was Euro-mod but anonymous in the Starbucks line, not a bad trick after scoring the overtime winner on Thursday and having the nonassist on Martin Gelinas' nongoal with seven minutes left in Game 6.

Such a peaceful interlude a few hours before a home game was an unexpected perk of playing in a city like Calgary, he said.

"I put the glasses on to try to be low-key," said the 23-year-old Moscow native. "People still recognize you, but it's nice when they don't ask for things from you the day of the game. There is a lot of pressure in Calgary, but they know I just want to get a coffee and get to the game. They know who you are, but they know what you do."

Lately that's been playing like he just chugged down a tall, expensive coffee. The left wing buzzed around the ice in Games 5 and 6, creating major matchup problems and generating offensive production from unexpected places. Though he has only six playoff points, his two in Games 5 and 6 are a bonus from a player who had 12 goals and 17 assists in 69 regular-season games and had played most of this series on checking lines. His ice time went up in consecutive overtime games, and so did his contribution.

"I just try to keep my momentum and use my speed all I can," he said. "I've been able to get in the open spaces a little more."

Saprykin banged in the overtime winner off a Jarome Iginla shot in Game 5 and set up the tying goal at 17:49 of the second period on Saturday when he skated onto a Dan Boyle turnover in the Lightning zone, blazed in toward Nikolai Khabibulin and flicked the puck right to Marcus Nilson after Khabibulin committed. All Nilson had to do was tap the puck into the net.

"I just try to stay on my feet and go to the net," Saprykin said. "That's pretty much it."

Splitting time with Chris Simon on Iginla's line, and with Gelinas and Nilson on another, Saprykin was a menace to the Lightning. As were several players not counted on for scoring. Both of Calgary's goals - the first by Chris Clark and assisted by Stephane Yelle and Ville Nieminen; the second by Nilson with assists from Saprykin and Andrew Ference - came from lines with a combined 20 postseason points.

"(Clark) and (Nieminen) and Saprykin seemed like they had a chance every shift with Nilson," Iginla said.

Tampa Bay defenseman Jassen Cullimore was forced to dump Saprykin - drawing a two-minute interference penalty - with nine minutes left in regulation in Game 6 as he drove to the net. Two minutes later, Saprykin tore in from the right side and tried to center for Gelinas, who was cutting down the middle. The puck deflected off Khabibulin before hitting Gelinas' skate blade and caroming to the goal line, but video replays were inconclusive as to whether the potential go-ahead goal crossed the line.

If it had, the Flames would have been seven minutes from the Stanley Cup, and Saprykin might have had his last peaceful cup of coffee.

[Last modified June 8, 2004, 01:01:17]

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