Joe Smith May 15, 2020
TAMPA, Fla. — Before the biggest game of his life, Dave Andreychuk made an impromptu trip to the mall.
Andreychuk, 42, the Lightning captain, had waited 22 years for his chance to hoist a Stanley Cup, so you couldn’t blame him for being nervous before Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup final against the Calgary Flames. So after the morning skate, Andreychuk, staying at the Marriott with the rest of the team, got picked up by a buddy and went to Westshore Mall.
Andreychuk didn’t come to shop, though some Calgary writers thought it was funny to see the future Hall of Famer browsing in a discount shoe shop. Andreychuk just wanted to walk the halls and clear his mind.
“I think I did get a few looks, like, ‘That can’t be him,'” Andreychuk said, laughing. “‘Is it him?'”
Many Lightning players struggled to relax during their normal pregame naps, with most of them instead congregating in the team room at the hotel. “I just wish the game was at 7,” said center Vincent Lecavalier. “The 8 (p.m.) start made the day 10 times longer. Just anxiety. I couldn’t sleep.”
Center Brad Richards, who would go on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, said he and winger Martin St. Louis stuck to their superstition of making a morning trip to the Starbucks on Howard Ave. It was the same spot they visited, along with head scout Jake Goertzen, the morning of their Game 2 win over Calgary, so why not try it again? They talked for an hour outside, about anything but hockey.
“I don’t know if one person knew we were in Starbucks on the morning of Game 7,” Richards said. “If that had happened in New York or Chicago, it would have been a nightmare.”
When Andreychuk got back to the hotel from the mall, he called his father, Julian, another pregame tradition. “Enjoy it,” he told his son.
The next time Andreychuk saw his father, he was handing him the Stanley Cup in a massive celebration.
With Fox Sports reairing Game 7 Saturday night, The Athletic compiled an oral history of that game, speaking to players from both sides in an attempt to retell the story of the biggest night in franchise history.
The ESPN broadcast opened with highlights from the series, then panned to the Tampa waterfront outside what was then called the St. Pete Times Forum.
“One more game. One more win. One more hero,” announcer Gary Thorne said.
St. Louis had been the hero a couple of nights earlier, his double-overtime goal still the biggest in franchise history. The “Red Mile” in Calgary had been ready to party that night with the Cup in the building, and Lightning players remember getting flipped off by Flames fans on the way to their hotel.
Lightning forward Tim Taylor: We got to the hotel and we had dinner, and it was very somber. We were nervous. We get up in the morning and boarded the plane, and (head coach John Tortorella) wanted to make sure ours got out before Calgary. He was yelling at the pilot to get to the runway, and our plane beat (theirs). We get to Tampa and 5,000 people are going crazy.
St. Louis: There was some nervousness. (Game 7) would be the last game no matter what. I definitely felt a little pressure in the sense that it was at home, and you won Game 6 and now you’ve got to validate.
Tortorella: At that time, we were all young guys. The coach is trying to find his way, players are trying to find their way. I don’t think anybody was afraid of the moment.
Flames forward Craig Conroy: We felt like we had to close things out (in Game 6). We were running on fumes. To get to overtime and lose on the St. Louis goal, you’re like, “Oh boy, we’ve got to go all the way back to Tampa and do it again?” To have to get on a flight again, go in there and win a game was going to be tough. We had a couple more injuries including (defenseman Robyn Regehr). The guy couldn’t even walk. I don’t know how he played.
Flames forward Martin Gelinas: I remember someone asking me if I watched the game again, and I said it would be a little like getting married, getting divorced, then watching the wedding video over again. It was not appealing to me. But watching it again (a few months ago), it gives you a different perspective. For us to win that game, we would have had to capitalize on every chance we had. I thought they were the better team. They just played better.
Game 7 got underway with Brad Richards winning the faceoff; he’d point out later that the team that won the opening faceoff in the first six games of the series had won each game, so he felt good. There was so much clutching and grabbing, appropriate for the final game under the old NHL rules. “It was like wrestling on ice,” said NBCSN broadcaster Pierre McGuire. There were no shots on goal from either team for the first seven-plus minutes.
Conroy: It was just the way our team had to play. It was muck it up and ugly, get in there and do whatever you could.
St. Louis: What I remember is the physicality of the series. I mean, they tried to intimidate us. It was very physical. Every hit was finished. The hooks, the holds — it was a war. Philly (who Tampa Bay had beaten in seven games in the conference final) took a lot out of us.
Gelinas: It was a jungle. It was borderline where they’d call it vicious.
Flames defenseman Jordan Leopold: The rules allowed it to be more physical than it is today. Today the game is built on speed. Not to say we didn’t have speed, but we didn’t play the game as fast. It was a real man’s series. You look at the leaders on both sides: (Jarome Iginla) and Lecavalier going toe to toe earlier in the series. We were depleted, we were going on nothing. We were kind of the Cinderella story, a sixth-seeded team playing unbelievably to beat (three division champs). We gave it everything we had.
The city of Calgary was somewhat resurrected from where it was a couple years prior. We put Calgary on the map, but you wish you had the holy grail at the end.
The first goal is always important, but that was especially true in this series, which amazingly featured zero lead changes. The team that had scored first in the first six games had won. The Lightning had ridden their hot power play, which was 6 for 29 in the series heading into Game 7, and a goal by Ruslan Fedotenko with the man advantage with 6:29 left in the first set the tone. Richards took a shot from the point, and Fedotenko deflected it in front. That led to a rebound off Calgary netminder Miikka Kiprusoff, and Fedotenko put in the second effort. Fedotenko got free from the aforementioned Regehr, who had badly hurt his ankle in Game 5 and entered the arena for Game 7 in a plastic cast. “He’s been shot up with a needle and he’s playing, because he’s a hockey player,” ESPN’s John Davidson said.
Fedotenko: I remember tipping the first (shot), and I was excited maybe it was going to go in. And all of a sudden, I turn and the puck is basically on my stick. I just shot it quick. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I just scored?”
Regehr: I had Fedotenko tied up. I turned around and his stick got free.
I tore my ankle up a bit in Game 5. I had to play with it in (Games) 6 and 7. It was a lot more difficult (playing with it) than I thought. You really lose the feeling of it, and it’s tougher to play on that, especially a foot or ankle, which are fairly important. Having gone through three rounds, you’re trying to hold your body together.
Fedotenko had been acquired by the Lightning at the 2002 draft (along with two second-round picks) in a trade for the No. 4 overall pick. Lightning GM Jay Feaster recalled a scout named Duke Williams resigning in protest, but Feaster followed the request from Tortorella.
Feaster: I remember going into the draft … and (Tortorella) said to me, “If you step up and make a pick, we’re (in trouble). You have to get us some help right now.”
Conroy: The surprise was that (the Lightning) had so many other offensive weapons, and the others stepped up for them, which was huge. (Fedotenko) was a good player, and you just never know who is going to rise to the occasion.
Lightning goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin was tremendous during the team’s playoff run, racking up five shutouts. And the Russian goaltender was strong in Game 7, too. But when you watch the game, you realize just how efficient and effective Tampa Bay played defensively, keeping Iginla and the Flames in check for most of the 60 minutes. Iginla, who tied for the league lead with 41 goals during the season and was a Hart Trophy candidate, was held without a shot from early in Game 6 until the third period of Game 7.
Andreychuk: I knew “Khabby” played great, but I didn’t realize how great defensively we were. You listen to the announcers talk about it. “Oh my God, this high-flying team, and they’re sitting back and not forechecking, trying to shut things down.” It changed my perspective.
It was just that determination. Star players win the Conn Smythe and score big goals. But you remember the (Jassen) Cullimore blocked shot, Cory Sarich taking a hit. All those small little things matter.
Richards: We weren’t the first team to block shots, but we were the first team to take on the aura where other teams were worried about us blocking shots and it got in teams’ heads. Reporters would ask us about it. It took on a life of its own. Our offense came from those little things and making them frustrated. You look back and see how we played — it was gratifying.
Lighting radio play-by-play man Dave Mishkin: The first 50 minutes, the Lightning didn’t just play really well, they played phenomenally well. This is the day of obstruction, they were not penalized. The series was like a street brawl. The game was not high-flying, dazzling, but from a defensive standpoint, they had an A-plus performance. For the first 50 minutes, they gave them nothing. It was championship-worthy. They were suffocating the Flames, not like the Devils in the trap days, but they were aggressively suffocating the Flames. They were on pucks, they were pressing forward.
Lightning defenseman Brad Lukowich: We took away the walls a little bit more. On a lot of their plays, when they got possession, they would fire around the boards. So we made an adjustment. So when they’d whip it around the boards, it would hit a defenseman and stay in the zone. Now we’ve got a shot versus going back to our end.
Lecavalier, the former No. 1 overall pick with electrifying talent, would become the captain and face of the franchise. His fight against Iginla earlier in the series was a galvanizing moment for the team. But Lecavalier had been quiet in the last several games, and the ESPN broadcasters took note.
“I don’t think he’s been right since getting hit into the glass and had 10 stitches to the side of his head,” said Davidson. “He said he’s fine, but I don’t believe him.”
“Whether he’s 100 percent or not, he hasn’t been effective or played his best hockey in the last three games, that we know,” said Bill Clement.
But with five minutes left in the second period, Lecavalier stole the show with a gutsy, highlight-reel assist on Fedotenko’s second goal, the one that became the game-winner. Lecavalier won a faceoff, then spotted Fedotenko out of the corner of his eye, kicking the puck to his stick and feeding him just before getting crushed to the ice by Toni Lydman’s high cross-check. Lecavalier joked later that he had a “headache for three days” from the hit.
Fedotenko: You worked so hard, and I’m standing in the high slot waiting. You’re toe-dragging everybody, second guy, third guy. I’m like “Vinny, I’m here.”
Lecavalier: There was not much thinking. I got lucky. The puck went through a pad, and the play just kind of developed that way. It’s not like I saw Feds as soon as I got the puck and did all this to set him up. It just happened kind of perfectly without you knowing, and Feds was open. He made the shot.
Fedotenko: When the puck was coming to me, I remember distinctly (thinking), “Do not miss the net.” I did not shoot it as high because I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss the net.
St. Louis: A great individual effort by Vinny to create that space. You really had to do something special one on one to create some space because everyone was hooking and holding.
Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle: It was one of the few skilled plays in that game. A hell of a play. A big-time play.
One TV camera panned to the stands. A Lightning fan held up a sign: “You’ve gotta believe.”
But the Flames got a reason to believe midway through the third period when they got a rare power play. Tampa Bay’s Nolan Pratt was called for interference after colliding with Oleg Saprykin at the net. Pratt went flying, and the rest of the team was in disbelief.
“I can’t believe that,” Clement said. “What a break for Calgary. If you’re looking for a potential turning point, folks, this is it.”
“That was a misidentification, but a big break for Calgary,” Davidson said.
On that power play, Conroy would score on a shot from near the blue line to bring Calgary within 2-1.
Andreychuk: Pratt’s face in the penalty box was priceless, like, “Oh my God, I just got this penalty and I didn’t deserve it.” (The Flames) scored. I blame myself (for the goal) because I was not in the shooting lane. I was back a little farther down. I thought I was going to get it, and I didn’t get it. From that moment on, I must have looked at the clock a thousand times and it never moved. We were clock watching as it was ticking down. Like, “Let’s get this over with.”
Richards: That call on Pratter, I still get angry when I watch it. I know the refs were doing their job, but I still want to yell at (linesman) Bill McCreary when Pratter got called for basically nothing. They scored, and there was mayhem after that.
Referee Bill McCreary: The last four games were one-goal games. When you go back and talk to people who played in the series and people who coached in the series, there were very, very few that would complain about the way the series was played or officiated. Overall, in the league at the time, there was underlying concern that hooking and holding and interference had to be limited so skill players could play. If you talk to Vinny or Richards or Iginla, they loved that hockey. They thrived on it. But there was a cry for change (during the subsequent lockout), and a lot of people (were) involved from a lot of different levels and the changes were made.
Conroy: You felt so many hooks and holds, guys finishing their checks. You go around the net and felt like you’d get gang-tackled. It was not easy to get any kind of space. I really felt like they had all the momentum, and then we scored, we made the push. “OK, we have a chance here, boys. We can tie this up.”
St. Louis: When you’re up 2-0, you feel like you’re going to win the game. But now it’s 2-1, and you wonder, “Is it slipping away?” You had to manage and play the game. The building was so loud. I felt like everyone was standing the whole game.
The Flames started to make a push in the last 10 minutes of the third. They didn’t get a bunch of grade-A looks, but their best chance to tie the game came with about five minutes to go. Off the rush, a rare juicy rebound caromed right to a streaking Leopold, who had pinched in from the left side. Lightning defenseman Pavel Kubina desperately dove to try to stop it, but Khabibulin — the “Bulin Wall” — was there with a sprawling blocker save. “What a save!” screamed Thorne. “That may be the one! That may be the one!”
Richards: It might be the biggest moment of Game 7: Khabby’s save in the third period. I feel like that was the major moment where he made the save, and (it was clear) it’s going to be heartbreak for them. They were still coming. It just kind of put me at ease when I saw him make that save. I actually let my guy go to the net and lost him, so it almost gave me a heart attack. After that, they never really had many good chances. They put a push on and he made that save, and we kind of shut it down the last two minutes. But it did feel like, for a few minutes, we were on the verge of getting out of control and Khabby made that save.
Boyle: We were hanging on for dear life.
Calgary Herald beat writer Scott Cruickshank: It was unbelievable. When he made that save, which was remarkable, it felt like the end. It was such a good chance after a game of no chances, and you can’t even get that one in.
Conroy: When Leopold looks like he was going to score and he didn’t, that was the end of it.
The game didn’t end without some drama. And some blood.
With a minute to go, St. Louis was hit into the boards behind the net by Flames defenseman Andrew Ference, whose stick got the Hart Trophy winner up in his face. Ference was called for charging, putting Calgary a man down.
St. Louis: I was trying to protect the puck, I was engaged and got blindsided by Ference. He cut me good, but we got a power play out of it. Torts put me back in, and I had the wind knocked out of me. I wasn’t quite ready. I had a really short shift, but you have to go.
With 20 seconds left, Andreychuk was called for tripping, making it four on four. Andreychuk, who had waited his entire career to win a Cup, had to watch from the penalty box as the clock ticked down.
Andreychuk: I believe I was in the best spot possible. I didn’t feel like they were going to tie the game at all, so being there was perfect for me. I was able to look across the ice and watch. Our wives and our families were all behind the bench, too. I was able to take it all in before I actually left the penalty box as we won the game. I’ll always remember looking up to the stands. I have a picture someone took of me looking at my family and giving them (a fist pump) before joining the pile. Those are pretty vivid memories, and we’re going to see those on Saturday night.
It’s something I’ll never forget.
Conroy: It was dead quiet (in the Flames dressing room). I remember sitting there thinking, “I can’t believe it’s over. We didn’t win.” To a man, we felt we were going to win this game. You’re almost in shock. It’s like, “Oh, it’s over? We’re done?”
What the Flames remember vividly, however, was having to listen to the Lightning celebrate, both on the ice and in the dressing room. It was a wet and wild party for Tampa Bay, with Taylor putting it best once it was just the players left in the room with the Cup:
“We’ll walk together forever.”
Lightning wing Andre Roy: When you see Tim Taylor say, “The one thing you have got to remember is we’ll walk together forever,” it sticks with you. We had to take a moment to realize we’ve accomplished something amazing here. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. We hung in there, some good moments, some tough moments. It was a dream come true.
There were St. Louis and childhood friend Eric Perrin celebrating with each other, thinking back to how everyone thought they’d be too small to ever reach the NHL. Now they were Stanley Cup champs. “I just couldn’t believe it,” St. Louis said.
There were Richards and Lecavalier, two hours after the game, sitting next to each other (in uniform) in a deserted room. There were paper cups, champagne bottles and debris everywhere. The two old buddies, former junior teammates, were savoring the moment.
And there was Andreychuk, who said there was “no better feeling” than being able to hand the Cup to his father during the dressing room celebration. It was the captain who left the arena with the Cup, in the wee hours of the night, buckling it into a seat in his truck.
After all, the two of them had a date with Disney World.