PLAYOFF SERIES: Stanley Cup finals; Flames lead 3-2.
TIME: Saturday, 8 p.m. EDT.
The Calgary Flames are one win away from completing perhaps the most improbable Stanley Cup run ever, with a chance to clinch the championship in front of their rabid fans and all of Canada ready to celebrate.
Now, the Flames just need to overcome the little problem of their play on home ice in these playoffs.
With an opportunity to end the night skating with the Cup around the Pengrowth Saddledome, the Flames look to close out the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6.
Oleg Saprykin scored his first goal in 18 games off a rebound of Jarome Iginla's shot 14:40 into overtime Thursday night, giving the Flames a 3-2 victory in Game 5 to move to the brink of the club's second Stanley Cup and first since 1989.
Calgary won a Game 5 for the fourth time in these playoffs, all on the road, and improved its road record to 10-3 in this postseason.
"We're all excited, it's one win away, but we know how desperate they are going to be," said Iginla, who was arguably the best player on the ice Thursday. "We plan on being pretty desperate, too, seeing that we're 60 minutes away to all of our dreams."
Iginla is the only big name on this small-market team, which had missed the playoffs the previous seven years and entered this postseason as the Western Conference's sixth seed.
Only one team in 33 years has blown a 3-2 finals lead, the 2001 New Jersey Devils against the Colorado Avalanche. Calgary, a longshot just to make the playoffs, is trying to become Canada's first Cup winner since Montreal in 1993.
To do that, however, the Flames must find a way to play better at home. They are 5-6 at the Saddledome in this postseason, and may have to battle to keep their emotions in check and stay disciplined as they are urged on by a raucous crowd that will be anticipating a championship celebration.
"We know what our role in this is and we're going to fight through it, do everything we can," said Flames coach Darryl Sutter, who appeared to inspire his team by alleging Wednesday that NHL higher-ups don't want Calgary to win the Cup.
Sutter and his club know they have a tough task on their hands in eliminating the Lightning, whose remarkable ability to bounce back throughout the postseason should leave the Flames no doubt that Tampa Bay isn't going to roll over in Game 6.
Lightning goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin is 6-0 in these playoffs following a loss, including a 1-0 win in Game 4, and the Lightning have alternated wins and losses for a playoff-record 12 consecutive games. If that trend holds, Game 7 will be in Tampa on Monday night, although the team winning Game 5 of a Stanley Cup final tied 2-2 has gone on to win the championship 14 of 18 times.
"We talked after the game that we're not dead yet," Tampa Bay captain Dave Andreychuk said. "We have won in that building before. That's what we're focused on right now, just trying to get that Game 6."
The Lightning have a chance to do that if they can duplicate Thursday's effort. Although Tampa Bay was outshot 36-28, it played solid defensively in the third period and overtime, forcing the extra session on Fredrik Modin's power-play goal early in the third.
Tampa Bay put together a very physical effort and pounded away at Calgary's defensemen throughout the game, and the strategy appeared to be paying off as the Flames blueliners seemed to wear down later in the game.
The Lightning, however, couldn't do enough to slow down Iginla, whose power and speed couldn't be contained. He scored his playoff-leading 13th goal late in the second period to give the Flames a 2-1 lead, and he set up the winning goal by putting a shot on net at the end of a long, hard-working shift, allowing Saprykin to put home the rebound.
"I didn't know where the puck was, (Marcus) Nilson kept it alive and made a great pass to me. He was going to shoot but he saw me," said Iginla, Calgary's captain. "Oleg was banging away in there right in front and he deserved the goal."
Calgary played a steady and focused game, taking only two penalties. The Flames perfectly employed their style of "controlled chaos," which emphasizes tough and aggressive play without landing in the penalty box, and they will get some help on the chaos front in Game 6.
Forward Ville Nieminen, suspended for Game 5, will return to the lineup Saturday. He was banned for one game by the NHL on Wednesday because of his check from behind that drove Lightning star Vincent Lecavalier into the boards and glass late in the Flames' Game 4 loss. It was that suspension that infuriated Sutter and prompted his accusations of favoritism toward Tampa Bay within the league office.
Nieminen, Calgary's most irritating player, was assessed a major penalty and ejected, and the short-handed Flames were then unable to put much pressure on Khabibulin as they tried to get the game tied.
While the Lightning also are likely to continue their physical play, their calm approach has been a constant throughout this postseason run, and they're unlikely to change that game plan much after a strong effort left them confident they can still capture the Cup.
So confident, in fact, that Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella left no doubt when he was asked if the Lightning would be home Monday for Game 7.
"Yes we will," Tortorella said.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Lightning - 1st seed; beat New York Islanders 4-1, East quarterfinals; beat Montreal Canadiens 4-0, East semifinals; beat Philadelphia Flyers 4-3, East finals. Flames - 6th seed; beat Vancouver Canucks 4-3, West quarterfinals; beat Detroit Red Wings 4-2, West semifinals; beat San Jose Sharks 4-2, West finals.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Lightning - Brad Richards and Ruslan Fedotenko, 10 goals; Martin St. Louis, 14 assists; Richards and St. Louis, 22 points; Chris Dingman, 63 PIM. Flames - Iginla, 13 goals and 22 points; Craig Conroy, 11 assists; Chris Simon, 72 PIM.
PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Lightning - Power play: 19.8 percent (18 for 91). Penalty killing: 85.9 percent (61 for 71). Flames - Power play: 13.6 percent (14 for 103). Penalty killing: 83.9 percent (94 for 112).
GOALTENDERS: Lightning - Khabibulin (14-7, 5 SO, 1.76 GAA); John Grahame (0-0, 3.53). Flames - Miikka Kiprusoff (15-9, 5, 1.82); Roman Turek (0-0, 0.00).