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Weird and wonderful dotted run

The best and worst over 61 days, 23 games, 16 wins and one Cup.

By TOM JONES
Published June 9, 2004

It took 23 games spread over 61 days. The Lightning's incredible postseason run to a Stanley Cup title was a wild two-month ride that captivated the community and brought the Tampa Bay area its second championship in one of the four major sports.

While each game, each shift, each faceoff, each morning skate and off-day practice seemed to have its special moment, here's a look back at the best and worst of the Lightning's 2004 Stanley Cup playoff.

BEST GAME: The obvious choice is Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. There wouldn't have been a Game 7 without the double-overtime victory in Game 6. Then again, there wouldn't have been a Cup final for Tampa Bay if not for Game 7 of the East final against the Flyers. That's the one, the game that sent the Lightning to the Cup final, that should go down as the shining moment. The Lightning was coming off a potentially devastating Game 6 loss, yet showed its jam before the most enthusiastic St. Pete Times Forum crowd in the postseason. The atmosphere that night was even more electric and intense than Game 7 against Calgary. This was the Lightning's version of the Bucs victory at Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game.

WORST GAME: The flattest game was a 3-0 loss to the Islanders in Game 2 of the first round. But that was only the second game of the playoffs. With a chance to eliminate the Flyers in Game 6, the Lightning took a 1-0 lead, fell behind 3-1, then roared back to take a 4-3 lead entering the third period. With the Lightning 1:49 from reaching the final, the Flyers tied it before winning in overtime. Pure heartbreak.

BEST LIGHTNING INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE: Pick a game, any game, and chances are goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin was sensational. Brad Richards' two-goal performance in Game 6 against Calgary kept the Lightning season alive. Vinny Lecavalier dominated the Montreal series. But Ruslan Fedotenko turned in not one, but two clutch performances. He had the critical first goal in Game 7 against the Flyers. Then he saved his best for last: both goals in a 2-1 Cup-clinching victory. Anyone griping about trading away the No. 4 pick now?

BEST OPPONENT PERFORMANCE: The Flyers' Keith Primeau was a monster. When? Every game. He hit, scored, intimidated, dominated, controlled. His seven-game performance - led by his two-goal, one-assist, six-shot, plus-3 performance in Game 4 - was as good as any in playoff history.

BEST QUOTE OF THE POSTSEASON: Three words: "SHUT YOUR YAP!"

MOST ABSURD MOMENT: The Islanders, belly-aching about getting shut out of their favorite Tampa hotel, tried to get revenge by locking up several rooms used by Lightning trainers at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Coach John Tortorella backed his trainers and hatched his own plan of an eye for an eye. He helped the trainers barricade the hallway between the Islanders and Lightning dressing rooms with equipment bags and chairs, forcing Islanders staff to walk the long way around the building to get from the executive offices to the dressing room. After a pow-wow with Isles GM Mike Milbury (Tortorella, apparently, did most of the lecturing), the rooms were unlocked and the hallway was cleared. The Lightning then won three straight to dust off the Isles.

GUTSIEST PERFORMANCE: Jassen Cullimore played with a fractured wrist. Cory Stillman had a messed up MCL. Dan Boyle played with a broken thumb and burnt house. Everyone except for announcer Dave Mishkin, it seemed, had a concussion at one time or another (and we're not 100 percent sure about Mishkin). But Fedotenko missed just one game after looking like he took an ax to the face. He went face-first into the boards, almost certainly suffered a concussion, yet returned without even wearing a face shield.

UNSUNG HERO AWARD: Defenseman Pavel Kubina loves to score, but he put his ego and offensive game on the shelf to win a Cup. Along with defense partner Darryl Sydor, Kubina shut down Primeau in Game 7, then held Jarome Iginla, who didn't even have a shot in Game 7, without a point in Games 6 and 7.

BEST ATMOSPHERE: Sorry, Tampa Bay, but the best atmosphere was Game 3 at the Bell Centre in Montreal. With the chants of "Ole, ole, ole" and the images of the greats such as Lafleur, Richard and Roy on the ice during the pregame laser show - not to mention the loudest crowd anywhere - the moments just before Game 3 would have raised goosebumps on a statue.

THE MY WAY AWARD: We harped about Tortorella's occasional abrupt manner with the media. But the guy won a Stanley Cup (with the Lightning, no less!) so it's hard to criticize his approach to the playoffs even if we didn't always like it. (And, yes, we admit, some of the questions were awful.)

WORST MEDIA QUESTION: A Canadian television reporter started to ask Tortorella a question before Game 7 - Game 7! - of the final. "John," he said, "with a potential lockout next season. ... " Tortorella cut him off and said, "That's a ridiculous question." It was only a half-question, but Tortorella was right.

BEST FIGHT: Lecavalier and Iginla in Game 3? Nah. Two reporters in the Montreal dressing room after Game 3 of that series. Even the Canadiens' Saku Koivu was impressed. "That's the playoffs," he said.

BEST SOUND: Lightning founder Phil Esposito, on the radio, after the Lightning beat the Flyers to advance to its first Cup final: "Wow, man. Wow."

BEST SIGHT: Watching 22-year veteran Dave Andreychuk lift the Stanley Cup.

[Last modified June 9, 2004, 01:00:39]

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