Well, so much for my seven part recap of last year's finals. The skinny on games two and three: Lightning returned to form, Kipper was awesome, Stillman got the crap beat out of him (deservedly), Lecavalier and Iggy proved that stars can fight, and the two teams split the two contests.
One year ago, one of the most infamous games the Flames have ever played, and ever will play took place at the madhouse that was the Pengrowth Saddledome. It was a ridiculously tight checking game that otherwise could have gone down as a defensive masterpiece, except that it will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. It was also a game that also proved hairspray causes brain damage.
There are really only two things to remember about this game: The 5-on-3 in the first, and Niemenen running Lecavalier in the third.
This game was decided in the first period, but not by "clutch hero" Brad Richards. No, it wasnt decided by the players, but by the referees. In particular, one referee: Kerry Frasier. In a series of decisions that will baffle me for all time, and which angered an entire city to the point where the NHL was left with no choice but to change officiating assignments for game 6, Kerry Fraser took the the game away from the players.
Barely 90 seconds into the game, the chain of events went something like this: With the play deep in the Lightning zone, Darryl Sydor runs Jarome Iginla from behind with Fraser looking straight at the two players. Inexplicably, he decides not to call a penalty on this play. Watson evidently did not see the hit, as the play was starting back up the ice. A few seconds later, Frederik Modin is hauled down by Mike Commodore, who had no choice but to take the penalty or risk a fairly easy goal against. This call was made by Watson. Behind the play, and with everyone knowing that Calgary was already going a man down, Chris Clark and Nolan Pratt come together, with each taking a fairly weak swipe at the other. After deciding a check from behind wasnt worthy of a call, Frasier somehow decided that the Flames deserved to go two men down. In game four of the Stanley Cup Finals, Fraser made one of the weakest penalty calls of the entire season.
Instead of what should have been a Flames powerplay, or at worst, a one man advantage for Tampa, Frasier handed one of the deadliest teams in the league a full two minute two man advantage. The gift goal the Lightning received turned out to be the only goal of the game. And while the obvious - and accurate - counter argument is that the Flames were unable to tie the game in the remaining 57 minutes, the fact remains that Tampa didnt really earn their goal either. But for Kerry Frasier, this game is scoreless for who knows how long, as neither team was really able to penetrate the defense of the other the rest of the game. And while Tampa Bay might have won legitimately anyway, chaging nothing, we will never know, as Kerry Frasier ripped the decision from the players.
The second play that will be remembered forever in Calgary was Niemenen's hit from behind on Lecavalier. While you can't really defend Ville, as it was as much a hit from behind as the one Sydor layed on Iginla in the first, and it was also deserving of a major, as the hit drew blood, it is Lecavalier's reaction that really drew the ire of Flames fans and players. Before I get into that, it is notable that once again, Frasier was staring right at that hit, and once again, Fraser chose not to make the call. It was Watson who called the penalty from across the ice, as this time, he saw it.
All Lecavalier had to do was get up, go to the referee, show the blood, penalty called. Instead, he had to make a big show of it, playing dead for the benefit of the referees. (He must have picked up some acting lessons from Mike Ribiero). There were even stories that one of his teammates told him to stay down. Watson skates over, looks at Levavalier, announces the major while the fans and Flames players were getting ready to applaud Lecavalier as he struggled back to his feet -- only to see him jump right up with a big grin on his face and do his little hair flip towards the Flames bench. LORD IT WAS A MIRACLE!
Not surprisingly, Niemenen was immediately suspended for the hit. A curious decision given that the NHL admitted it was basing a decision on suspending Stillman for his illegal check in game 1 on whether Nilson could go for game two. While there was no doubt Lecavalier would not miss any time, no such concession was made towards the Flames forward on a hit that was no worse than the one Stillman laid out.
The game ended as it began, with the crowd mustering up all of the vitrol and venom it could and aiming it towards the referees. That fury would be captured, and used by Darryl Sutter before game 5, as he launched a Gretzkyesque tirade against the NHL and it's decision making, suggesting that the league was cheering for Tampa to win, and that it was the world against the Flames.
The most striking part of this game was the looks on the faces of the fans during and after the game. Quite honestly, if the same events had taken place in a town like Detroit, there would have been a riot. The fury in the eyes of the fans was that strong.
However, ultimately, the final verdict of this game is that the Flames lost their chance to take a stranglehold on the series, and we were headed back to Tampa Bay to begin a best of three for the cup as everyone in North America was left to wonder how the Flames would bounce back.