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On This Date in Sports June 7, 2004: Lord Stanley heads to Florida

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

As storm clouds gather in the NHL labor situation, the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup, beating the Calgary Flames 2-1 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals at the St. Pete Times Forum. The Lightning who won Game 6 on an overtime goal by Martin St. Louis hold off a late surge by the Flames, as Brad Richards wins the Conn Smythe.

The Tampa Bay Lightning were named an expansion team in the NHL people scoffed that hockey could never work in Florida. However, despite struggling much of the of their first decade, they created a strong fan base. After making just one playoff appearance in their first decade, the Lightning led by young talented players like Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis along with Dave Andreychuk won their first playoff series in 2003. A year later they had the best record in the Eastern Conference under coach John Tortorella, at 46-22-8-6. The Lightning took down the New York Islanders in five games and swept the Montreal Canadiens to reach the Eastern Conference Finals where they survived a seven-game battle with the Philadelphia Flyers to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Calgary Flames meanwhile made the playoffs for the first time in seven years under coach Darryl Sutter at 42-30-7-3. In the playoffs the Flames won their first playoff series since the 1989 Stanley Cup championship, beating the Vancouver Canucks in seven games as Martin Gelinas scored the overtime game-winner. Calgary moved on to dethrone the Detroit Red Wings in six games. Detroit who had won the Stanley Cup in 2002 was the best team in the regular season again in 2004. The Flames would go on to beat the San Jose Sharks in six games to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

Calgary came out strong in the opener of the Stanley Cup Finals, as they jumped out to a 3-0 lead on goals by Martin Gelinas, Jarome Iginla, and Stephane Yelle. Martin St. Louis scored for Tampa in the third, but Chris Simon answered as the Flames won 4-1 at the St. Pete Times Forum. In Game 2, Brad Richards scored early for the Lightning as Nicolai Khabibulin was strong in goal. In the third period, Tampa broke the game open with goals from Brad Richards, Dan Boyle, and St. Louis. The Flames would get a late tally from Ville Nieminen as Tampa won 4-1 to even the series.

It was a sea of red at the Saddledome for Game 3, as the Flames defense smothered the Lightning, allowing just 18 shots on goal, as Miikka Kipprusoff earned the shutout win. Calgary meanwhile got goals from Chris Simon, Shean Donovan, and Jarome Iginla. In Game 4, Brad Richards scored a power-play goal in the first period. It was the only goal of the game, as Khabibulin stopped 29 shots with the Lightning winning 1-0 to even the series.

Game 5 back in Tampa would go back and forth, as Gelinas and Iginla scored for the Flames, while the Lightning struck back with goals from Martin St. Louis and Frederic Modin to send the game to overtime tied 2-2. In overtime, the Flames would emerge victorious on a goal by Oleg Saprykin.

With the Flames needing a win to secure the Stanley Cup, there was an air of anticipation at the Pengrowth Saddledome. The game was nearly a carbon copy of Game 5, as the Lightning got two goals from Brad Richards, while Chris Clark and Marcus Nilson scored for the Flames with the game going to overtime tied 2-2. The game would turn into a marathon as nobody scored in the first 20 minutes of sudden death. In the second overtime period, it would take just 33 seconds for the Lightning to break through as Martin St. Louis scored on a backhand to send the series to a seventh game. St. Louis, who had become a star in Tampa, winning the Hart Trophy and scoring title in 2004 had once been released by the Flames who did not believe the undersized winger would ever be a factor in the NHL.

Game 7 had all eyes on Tampa, it was an especially big game for the NHL as the dark clouds of a long labor struggle were becoming clear. The Collective Bargaining Agreement was set to expire, and the owners seeking a hard salary cap were ready to shut down the sport for as long as needed. As it was becoming clear that a labor war was coming Game 7 would be the last chance anybody would see NHL hockey for a long time.

Tampa got goals by Ruslan Fedotenko in the first and second periods to hold a 2-0 lead heading into the final 20 minutes. The third period would see both teams tighten up on defense, as the Flames got a power play goal by Craig Conroy with just over ten minutes left. In the final ten minutes, the Flames turned up the pressure as Nicolai Khabibulin was up to the challenge with the Lightning hanging on for the 2-1 win to win the Stanley Cup.

The Tampa Bay Lightning would win be able to celebrate the Stanley Cup, but the NHL would enter a year of disaster as the entire 2004/05 season was canceled due to continuing labor squabbles with the league and the players’ association.