Series Preview: Calgary & Detroit
Calgarypuck Playoff Coverage 2004

D'Arcy McGrath
April 22nd, 2004

My how 14 days can change the landscape of a hockey market.

Just two short weeks ago the fledgling Flames were entering their first playoff series in eight years against the Northwest Division champion Vancouver Canucks.

A city, giddy with anticipation for meaningful hockey games, were hopeful, supportive but not really sure what to expect when the blood, sweat and tears first starting flying in GM Place.

In this half month of first round hockey the Calgary Flames have managed to completely rewrite the team's outward image and restore pride and excitement into a good hockey town that was getting a little sick of being pushed around.

No longer will you hear barbs about the club's failure to make the playoffs in over a half decade.

No longer will you have to endure the decade and a half vacuum without the presence of a playoff series victory.

No longer will the thought of overtime bring sweat to your brow and the shakes to your extremities.

The Flames in just under eight months have gone from a consensus 12th place Western Conference team - a club doomed to a perpetual rebuilding effort - to a final eight playoff team given a real shot at giving the high flying Red Wings a real run for their money.

But what are the chances of keeping that glass slipper on into May?



The Red Wings are decorated, healthy and very, very deep up front with a roster that few teams could hope to match, let along a small market Canadian team riddled with first round bullet holes.

The Wings can boast four solid lines, each with big league skill, be it all out offensive ability, wily veteran savvy, or high-end checking skills. There are no easy touches with the Wings top 12. The team features established veterans like Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan and Brett Hull, plus up and coming offensive talents like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. When it comes to mucking up they have one of the best "grit" lines in hockey with Kirk Maltby, Chris Draper - a 24 goal man himself, and Darren McCarty.

The Flames when healthy, could also roll four lines, perhaps not to the same effectiveness level as the Motor City crew, but to the level that they were able to take strides this season. Without the services of first line left wing (Chris Simon), second line center (Steve Reinprecht) and second line left wing (Dean McAmmond), that simply isn't possible.

Darryl Sutter will have to shorten up his bench, limiting Kzys Oliwa to a handful of minutes and his exuberant youth to energy shifts if he hopes to survive. As a result the veteran skill on the Flames will be pushed to the max.

The Flames obvious ace in the hole is the presence of the series' best hockey player, right winger Jarome Iginla. His game seven heroics has the whole league talking, and this writer wondering if the well rounded sniper may have just taken his game to another level.



The Flames have a very underrated and somewhat anonymous defence crew, lord knows the Vancouver Canucks and their media scribes certainly over looked their abilities prior to the last series.

The crew plays the body very well, limiting space and chances in the defensive zone, and clogging up the attack lines through center and the rush. Through the rough and tumble seven game series with Vancouver they effectively neutralized a lot of the Canuck's softer skill up front turning the club into a "powerplay" team.

The top duo of Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold are both future stars on a very steep playoff learning curve and can both be difference makers in hockey games. The battered Rhett Warrener and pleasant surprise Andrew Ference round out the top four in the absence of Toni Lydman and Denis Gauthier.

The Flames will need to get one of the latter two back if they hope to contain the Wing's four line attack - Gauthier a strong doubt, and Lydman only a day to day hopeful at this point.

Detroit's blueline, like their forward group, is very deep, very experienced and very healthy, all bad news from the Calgary side.

They have a total of six Norris Trophies on their blueline, and one of the game's best in Nik Lidstrom. The rest of the crew is made up of the old but effective Chris Chelios, the big and hostile Darian Hatcher, the dependable Mattieu Schneider, and the hulking Jiri Fischer.

The group's age and lack of footspeed is one of the key exploitation points for the Flames if they have any hope of getting past Detroit. Look for Calgary to dump the puck in and try to either beat the older Wings to the puck, or put them through the boards should they get there first.



The Flames can only hope they can once again wiggle their way through three goaltenders in this series like they did against Vancouver.

With Dominic Hasek on the mend, three goaltenders deep would be a real boost to the Flames chances to upset the Red Wings, though lightning striking twice is somewhat remote.

The series starter for the Wings is none other than former Flame Curtis Joseph. Truth be known the former Leaf didn't actually play in Calgary, having only been Flame property for one day two summers ago as he was about to enter the free agent market.

Curtis Joseph was once considered one of the best stoppers in the game, but his lack of playoff acumen and his face plant last spring has some doubt cast on the former Blue and Oiler affectionately known as CUJO. Cujo, a nickname that has stuck with the stopper since his days in St. Louis will be a much easier name for Calgary fans to taunt then that one syllable Auld in the last home game.

Joseph isn't a big fan of traffic, a true Cow Town specialty, and is very weak handling the puck at times, another possible boon to the Flames dump and chase attack.

The Flames have a solid one-two punch with Miikka Kiprusoff and Roman Turek, but look for Kiprusoff to ride the Flame crest as far as these playoffs go for Calgary.

The recently named Vezina Trophy finalist had two somewhat average games in the first round, surrounded by five dandies as the Flames upset the Canucks. His cool demeanor and unshakeable confidence level carried over from the regular season pretty much shedding any doubt that "Kipper" is indeed for real.


Special Teams

The Flames were solid five on five in the Vancouver series but had all sorts of trouble on special teams; a death sentence if repeated against the high powered Red Wings in the second round.

The Canucks did score four of their six series man advantage goals in the first game, suggesting things may be somewhat under control.

The Flames powerplay was huge late, scoring twice in the seventh game, but the group lacks the ability to get the puck set up cleanly in the opposition zone. The NHL seems to have a book on the club's inability to effectively move the puck when pressured.

The Red Wings had a great powerplay in the regular season but it almost cost them the series against the Predators in the first round. It can't lie dormant forever.

The Wings penalty killing unit was ranked first overall in the regular season, and has followed that ranking up in the post season.



Whether the perception is fair or not, the Wings under Dave Lewis appear to be a team still being guided by Scotty Bowman with a caretaker along to open the bench doors.

Lewis has a great group to work with and is a competent coach, but you still don't get that "this is his team" feel when you watch the Wings.

Darryl Sutter is clearly the Flames most popular and effective bench boss since Bob Johnson moved on to retirement and then Pittsburgh in the late 1980's. As coach and GM, Sutter has had the Midas touch in Calgary, a streak he likely hopes to carry through Detroit and onward in these playoffs.

If the first round is any indication, Sutter is a very formidable playoff bench boss. His ability to flatline his team's emotional peaks and valleys and mix things up with varied line combinations to free Iginla was the difference against Vancouver.



With two teams so clearly different it's very hard to pick an intangible edge in this series.

The Red Wings are a very cup confident team - they've all been through this before and shouldn't fall victim to the same emotional extremes that may befuddle the star struck Flames.

With that said, being a veteran club, the Wings may have trouble matching the Flames all out fervor for being in the playoffs, and willingness to go to the wall to get the job done. In hockey that emotion switch is tough to find, though it can act as a negative if used unwisely.

The Flames still at the amoeba level of playoff experience are 14 days better off than before the Vancouver series with 20 odd bodies all adding 7 games to their playoff belts, or 140 games tacked on to a team that had roughly 600 at the beginning of April. They've essentially boosted their playoff experience by 25% in just two weeks.


My Pick

If the Calgary Flames feel anything like their fan base, a mob that took to the streets with a city wide party on Monday night, there is a danger of just being happy to be there, and not actually bringing the same level of play against Detroit.

The emotional lift and release of finally winning a playoff series may be a difficult thing to harness in a second round series against a clearly superior opponent.

But ... if Darryl Sutter can calm things down and get all dressed players pulling on that same rope like he did in the Vancouver series, the Flames will give the Wings all they can possibly handle. The Flames just may have the two best players in this series, and if Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff can elevate their play another notch higher things could get interesting, very quickly.

In the end the injuries will prove to be just too much to overcome against an experienced opponent, a club that by their quotes is already taking the Flames more seriously than the Vancouver Canucks ever managed.


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