Series Preview: Calgary & Detroit
Calgarypuck Playoff Coverage 2004

Rick Charlton
April 22nd, 2004

Now comes the hard part.

And that might be the problem for the Calgary Flames.

After wowing crowds in Vancouver and Calgary with a terrific, fast-paced and pulverizing seven game series that featured a triple overtime game, one can't help but wonder if there is anything left in the tank for the proverbial last men standing as they open tonight against the de facto Numero Uno team in these playoffs.

"They're young. They can take it."

So say their growing legions of supporters.

Yet there at the other end of the ice are the cool Wings, most of them bemusedly polishing their previous Stanley Cup rings while they sat at home resting while watching the Flames gasping for air only a few days ago against the Canucks.

This would have looked a whole lot better if the old Wings had gone seven games while the young legs of Calgary had been resting.

GOALTENDING: Kiprusoff is the last Vezina Trophy candidate still alive in these playoffs so regardless of whom the Flames might face from here on in, Calgary is going to have the edge.

In spite of allowing an unusual five goals against in two games against Vancouver, the Calgary netminder still emerged from the seven games series with his usual impressive numbers, 2.08 GAA and a .922 save percentage.

However, Kiprusoff isn't necessarily a goaltender who is going to steal a series, contrary to popular belief.

Last year, Anaheim's Jean Sebastien Giguere stopped an average of 43 shots per game in taking out the Wings in a four game sweep. Yet we can see from the regular season that Kiprusoff is virtually unbeatable when the Flames limit the opposition to 25 or fewer shots but only a .500 goaltender when Calgary surrenders 30 or more shots a game.

That's not to say Kiprusoff isn't capable of a Giguere-like feat ... but his history indicates its improbable. Kiprusoff is all about consistency, stopping every shot he should stop and a few others on top of that. You could probably count on one hand with a few fingers left over the number of bad goals he surrendered during the season. That is the characteristic that makes him a remarkable goaltender. If Calgary's defensive scheme takes care of him, he will take care of the rest of the team.

Curtis Joseph, meanwhile, nearing the end of his career after an injury-riddled season, seems to have taken over from Manny Legace. Joseph is a playoff veteran but also a guy with only limited success in the post-season while having a reputation for being brilliant for one series and barely adequate thereafter.

The Wings are one of the premier clutch and grab teams in the NHL with two of the rougher defencemen in the league, Chris Chelios and Darian Hatcher, working to ensure Joseph will see the puck clearly.

Advantage: Calgary

DEFENCE: The Flames are the proverbial new kids on the block, most of them sporting black eyes to boot ... if they're in the lineup at all.

Calgary's defence corps has been its great strength all season, the point where experience catches up to ability finally giving young players like Robyn Regehr, Jordan Leopold, Toni Lydman and Denis Gauthier the chance to contribute to winning instead of losing.

Most of the key elements, with the exception of Lydman, appear to be healthy entering this playoff, Gauthier's apparent long-term injury adequately replaced by the emergence of bruising Mike Commodore. Lydman, a vital puck-moving defenceman who can chew up 20 + minutes a night and work the power play, may not start this series but is likely to be in the lineup by the end. Rhett Warrener is the other key element for Calgary.

At the other end of the ice is either trouble or an opportunity, depending on how you want to view it.

Nik Lidstrom had a sub-par season by his standards while veteran Mathieu Schneider stepped up his play considerably. Both will be a handful for the Flames in their ability to rush the puck from their zone or control Detroit's special teams.

Ancient but willing Chelios and slow as mud Hatcher round out the principal four the Flames can expect to see, the above names all frequently logging between 23 to 28 minutes a game while bench warmers like Jiri Fischer might see less than ten minutes at best.

Therein lies some intrigue in this series, a ray of hope for the Flames.

With Lydman in the lineup, Calgary might actually have a depth advantage on the Wings while the over use of slower defencemen like Chelios and Hatcher may afford Calgary's swift forwards more opportunities to score than they saw against Vancouver. We will concede that once stationary in front of their net, the physical attributes of Chelios and Hatcher will give Calgary fits ... and plenty of bruises.

But there are definitely elements of Detroit's defence corps that can be taken of advantage of.

Still, the quality edge goes to Detroit but this is a lot closer comparison than Wings fans might want to admit.

FORWARDS: In analyzing his first round defeat of Vancouver, Calgary coach Darryl Sutter said the Flames had only to shut down the Canucks big line of Brendan Morrison, Markus Naslund and Matt Cooke.

He now anticipates having to engage the same task with four strong lines in Detroit.

In comparing the Flames and Wings up front ... there really isn't a comparison. Calgary has the probable MVP of the first round and a Hart Trophy nominee in Jarome Iginla. Then they've got a lot of other fast guys who play a bruising style and have to crash the net to get their points.

Detroit has a wunderkind in Pavel Datsyuk who, if left unchecked, can run roughshod over any team in the league all by himself.

Then they keep coming with names like Yzerman, Shanahan, Hull, Zetterberg and Selke nominee Kris Draper.

No contest here: Advantage Detroit.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Calgary was lit up repeatedly by one of the lower ranked power plays in the NHL in the first round of the playoffs, something the 13th ranked penalty kill will have to fix if it hopes to withstand the best in the business, Detroit, in round two.

Conversely, the Flames 21st ranked power play, which came up with the dramatic game 7 overtime winner, will be hard pressed to overcome Detroits number one ranked penalty killing unit.

From all angles, this is really no comparison ... and that might be the fatal blow to Calgary in this series.

Advantage: Detroit

COACHING: Coaching the top team in the league doesn't necessarily earn you respect. Your critics will insist you merely open the gate for a talented lineup, reaping the resulting benefits while looking cerebral and fiery on the bench depending on the circumstances.

Such is the fate of Dave Lewis in Detroit.

At the other end of the spectrum is the coach who appears to have squeezed blood from a stone, turning an also-ran into a modest contender overnight.

Such is the glory of being Darryl Sutter these days.

If the Flames are to win this series, Sutter will have to prove that his Jack Adams nomination was more than luck. That's exactly what he did in round one, alternately applying the whip to the troops before salving the hurt with an ample supply of honey. It was a winning combination in round one.

Advantage: Calgary

INTANGIBLES: Only two years removed from their last Cup with much of the supporting cast still in place, the Wings have the advantage of experience, a plethora of wily veterans who know how to grind out a series until the other side, usually inexperienced, begins to press and eventually cracks.

Which pretty much describes Detroit's first round win over luckless Nashville.

Still, this is a Wings team that also has many of the core elements that gassed itself against Anaheim and were slaughtered by Los Angeles only a few seasons ago.

The Flames have the experience of their first round win over Vancouver fresh in their minds as well as a sprinkling of veterans in their lineup, like Warrener and Martin Gelinas, players who have gone all the way to the final two and can pass on the gift of patience to their younger peers.

It may also help that the Flames will be suitably fearful of embarrassing themselves, bringing renewed energy to this new campaign in spite of the weary legs left over from the last one.

We will also give Calgary the advantage of having a Jack Adams nominee on their side, Sutter, and acknowledge he may well have been the Calgary MVP this year if voting permitted such an angle.

Advantage: Calgary.

CALLING THE SERIES: Across North America this morning, prognosticators in newspapers and on the airwaves will acknowledge the plucky Flames as a worthy opponent ... then hand the series to the Wings, few thinking it will go more than six games.

It's hard to argue with the herd on this one.

Still, the Flames aren't chumps themselves and have a legitimate chance ... but it will have to come a certain way.

In games this season where Calgary limited opponents to two or fewer goals, they were 41-8-3-3. In games where opponents scored three or more times, Calgary was 1-21-4-1.

Through the first round of the playoffs, that same theme held true, Calgary winning four of five games where they limited the opposition to two or fewer goals and losing twice where they gave up three or more.

Run and gun will not be Calgary's game. It can't be. They'll lose if it is. Particularly against the Wings.

Calgary's style also requires a lot of energy. The riddle is: "Do they have it?"

It's apparent "how" Calgary has to win this series but the Wings simply have too much offence, too much experience.

Wings in five.


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