This week SB Nation’s theme is: What If? It’s a look at “what if” your team didn’t trade this player? Or what if you hired this coach? There’s a million different “what if’s” in many teams franchise history. But for the Calgary Flames there is only one real “what if?” A painful what if and it’s the reason this column is here: What If......The Puck Was In?
Buckle up kids because this won’t be pleasant. There is no way to sugar coat it and say it won’t bring back horrible memories of the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals because it will.
Game 6. Calgary holds a 3-2 series advantage and are playing at the Saddledome for the chance to hoist their second Stanley Cup in the Flames franchise history. As the final period starts, the Flames and Tampa Bay Lightning are tied at 2-2. At the 6:57 mark, while on the PP, the Flames come in to the Tampa end on a two on two rush. Martin Gelinas sets himself up out front and redirected the puck off of his stake and appeared to score the Flames third goal, which would have given them a 3-2 lead. Allegedly Nikolai Khabibulin stopped the puck from crossing the line and the rest is history. For those unfamiliar with the play or for those that just want to relive a painful moment, here it is:
We will give you a minute to collect yourself, pick up your computer, dig your phone out the hole in the wall you made by throwing it into or a chance to catch your breath. Good? Ok. The NHL ruled it was no goal and the ABC crack staff and “graphics” department would love for you to believe the puck never crossed the line and was never a goal. As Flames fans, we know the truth and know the Flames were jobbed out of a Stanley Cup.
Ok, Flames glasses off, technology wasn’t where it is today in 2004. There was still an overtime and a Game 7 to play, so there’s that. But that call and that “no goal” can and would certainly be a back breaker for the Flames as they would lose Game 6 in double overtime and the lose the decisive Game 7 back in Tampa by the score of 2-1.
So, What If.....The Puck Was In? Well, the obvious answer is the Flames score a late third period, demoralizing goal and, if you play the percentages, probably win Game 6 at home and hoist the Stanley Cup in front of their home crowd. That’s the easy part.
But what about the players? Jarome Iginla wins that Stanley Cup that ended up eluding him for his entire career. Maybe he doesn’t jump around so much at the end of his career as he’s already drank from Lord Stanley’s Cup. Miikka Kiprusoff? Kipper hoists the Cup in his first season with the Flames after playing only 38 games and being a MAJOR reason the Flames even get to the Finals. Martin Gelinas? He’s a hero for being in the right place at the right time and will go down as the answer to the trivia question: who scored the GWG that got the Flames their second Stanley Cup?
The Flames played just about every game you could play in the 2003-04 season. They finished 3rd in the Northwest with a record of 42-30-7-3. They played 26 of a possible 28 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which is an absolute insane playoff run and many weren’t easy.
The Flames would never re-create that magic of the 2003-04 season. There would be no hockey in 2004-05 due to the lockout. Darryl Sutter was gone after the 2005-06 season. Calgary would make the playoffs in their next four seasons, but ultimately were a one and done each time they went.
The ensuing seasons would see the arrival of Mark Giordano and Dion Phaneuf and MUCH later on Mikael Backlund, Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, but that one play changed the fortunes of a franchise and it’s fan base. Calgary has yet to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals and has rarely made it out of the first round when making the playoffs.
So, What If The Puck Was In? Who knows? Maybe the Flames hold on and win the Cup in 2003-04. Maybe there isn’t a tail spin in the years that accompanied that loss. Maybe the Flames go on a little run and become one of the NHL’s elite. Or, maybe they just win that second Stanley Cup and we’re all just happy that it happened. In the end, the damn puck was in and Calgary should have a “2003-04 Stanley Cup Champions” banner hanging at the Dome. Iggy should have a ring and have retired in a Flames jersey. Kipper has a ring to go with his incredible record and Martin Gelinas can say “yeah, I’m the guy that scored the game winning goal in Game 6!” Instead, we’re left to ask......... “What if?” Sigh.