Low profile teams bring high energy to Finals

Tampa, Calgary favor more wide-open style

Stanley Cup Finals

May 24, 2004|By Michael Russo | Michael Russo,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

TAMPA, Fla. - So the idea of Calgary vs. Tampa Bay in the Stanley Cup Finals doesn't get your juices flowing?

It should.

The U.S. television market isn't exactly doing somersaults, but this matchup, which begins in Tampa tomorrow night, has the makings of a fan's dream - two fast teams who think offense first and are allergic to that dreaded trap that often sucks the life out of hockey arenas.

Both teams have one style - straight ahead. Their aggressive forechecking creates exciting games because it combines two facets fans love - hard-nosed physical play with heaps of offensive chances.

When asked about the Lightning's style last week, coach John Tortorella responded, "Fun, isn't it?"

Yes, it is.

"This is going to be good for the NHL," Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle said. "It's good to see two teams that play a very aggressive, offensive style make it to the end. It's a great matchup - speed vs. speed. I think both teams can be physical, too ..."

In 1995, when Jacques Lemaire's Devils beat Detroit for the Stanley Cup, coaches tried to emulate New Jersey's suffocating trap. More recently, Carolina and Anaheim advanced to the Finals playing a similar style, and coaches continued to believe in it.

But the success by Tampa Bay and Calgary will hopefully change this. Both teams have proved that aggressive forechecking overcomes clogging the neutral zone.

This series should have it all.

Do you like stars? There's no more marketable star than Calgary's Jarome Iginla, the NHL's leading scorer. Tampa Bay's got them too, in Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards.

You like goaltending? Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff had the best goals-against average in 64 years and hasn't fallen off in the playoffs. And Tampa Bay's Nikolai Khabibulin is second in the playoffs with a 1.65 goals-against and first with a .939 save percentage.

Like hitting? There hasn't been a grittier line in the playoffs than Calgary's Marcus Nilson-Shean Donovan-Ville Nieminen, not to mention hard-hitting Flames forwards like Dave Lowry, Chris Simon and Krzysztof Oliwa. Tampa Bay has workhorses in Chris Dingman, Andre Roy, Dave Andreychuk and Tim Taylor, complemented by stars like Lecavalier, Richards and Fredrik Modin who have bought into physical hockey.

Defense? The Flames have the league's most underrated blue line with solid, reliable defensemen Robyn Regehr, Rhett Warrener and Jordan Leopold, and Tampa Bay's blue line combines nastiness - Pavel Kubina and Cory Sarich - with offense - Boyle and Darryl Sydor.

"We've been watching [the Flames'] games on our nights off," Richards said.

"They are relentless. They never quit. Their feet are always moving. It's going to be a tough challenge. They are playing with so much emotion right now and have a great goalie, so it's going to be a fun series."

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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