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Lords of the rink

Nikolai Khabibulin makes Ruslan Fedotenko's two goals stand up.

DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published June 8, 2004

TAMPA - Oh ... my ... God.

What other reaction can you have, really? You've seen the Lightning lose 50 games four years in a row; including overtime, of course, but why quibble?

You've seen 16-game winless streaks twice in the same season. And just two years ago, Tampa Bay didn't make the playoffs.

But rub your eyes, shake the cobwebs out of your head and get a load of this.

With its 2-1 victory over the Flames on Monday night in Game 7 in front of a deafening, record St. Pete Times Forum crowd of 22,717, you saw the Lightning win the Stanley Cup.

"Unbelievable," wing Ruslan Fedotenko said. "I can't believe it. There are no words to express the feeling."

"Amazing," defenseman Jassen Cullimore said. "It's going to take a little time to set in. It's the Stanley Cup. It's in Tampa Bay."

It is here because the Lightning won consecutive games for the first time in a series since Games 3 and 4 of the East semifinals and became the fifth team to win the Cup after falling behind three games to two in the final.

It capped a thrilling season in which the team had a franchise-best 106 points, won a second straight Southeast title and was the No. 1 seed in the East. And the trophy is in the hands of captain Dave Andreychuk. The 40-year-old, in his 22nd season, won his first Cup in his first final.

"Well, you dream about this day for a long time, obviously," he said. "I don't believe you can put into words the things that are going through your mind. I am going to savor this moment with my family and my teammates."

But still ...

"Awesome," defenseman Dan Boyle said. "Everybody dreams about this when you are a kid. Nobody believed we were going to do it."

"The toughest loss by a thousand times," Flames wing Jarome Iginla said. "It hurts more than anything else I've been a part of to hear them out there celebrating."

It was sweet revenge for Fedotenko. Knocked out of Game 3 and out of Game 4 after being pushed facefirst by Robyn Regehr into the ledge of the boards, Fedotenko scored both goals, one in each of the first two periods. His 12 goals were just five fewer than he scored in the regular season.

Nikolai Khabibulin finished a postseason that likely assures he will be with the team next season. He made 16 saves and allowed only Craig Conroy's power-play goal through a screen 9:21 into the third. Cory Stillman and Vinny Lecavalier had assists as did Brad Richards, who, with 12 goals, a record seven winners and a playoff-high 26 points, got the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

"It's just last man standing," Richards said. "Basically, we might have won one more battle, gotten one more big save, another goal. One of those things that's unbelievable."

"It's overwhelming what they had to go through to get this," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "I have nothing but respect for these athletes."

Scoring chances were at a premium. The teams, with 32 combined shots, broke the record for fewest in a Stanley Cup final game. That's why Stillman's work in the corner on Fedotenko's first goal was so invaluable.

Lecavalier's perfect pass, though surrounded by three defenders, set up Fedotenko's second goal. And Khabibulin was splendid in a third period in which Calgary took 10 of its 17 shots. His post-to-post save on Jordan Leopold with 4:55 left was a classic.

Martin St. Louis survived a cheap shot from Andrew Ference with 1:01 left. The blow into the boards cut his forehead, and Ference was called for boarding. And don't forget the effort from defensemen Pavel Kubina and Darryl Sydor, who helped hold Iginla, the likely MVP had the Flames won, to zero shots Monday and without a point in consecutive games.

"We ran out of gas," Flames coach Darryl Sutter said. "We played as well as we could. But let's not forget, hey, we were beat by a great team."

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