Round One Begins: Calgary vs Chicago—Check Out Fire on Ice Live Tonight
If you read my last column, you read that I did (indirectly) predict that the Calgary Flames would finish fifth in the West Conference. At the very least I did prognosticate that it was very likely. Also at the time, the Flames, going through a rash of injuries, hadn't reached the apex of shelving players.
The end to the season basically began unbeknown to anyone right around the time Rene Bourque was placed on the injury list with a "lower-body injury" (high ankle sprain).
Then the team lost Todd Bertuzzi in favor of knee surgery. Like the line in the movie: "The hits just kept on coming", more and more players fell to the injury bug.
The Calgary Flames pretty much limped to the finish line, gutting out the last few games of the regular season with only 15 skaters.
The game they played against the Canucks was lost, not from the team's lack of depth, but by Vancouver's Roberto Luongo playing like a man possessed, stopping an incredible 21 shots by the Flames in the first period alone.
I would be very surprised indeed to see "Bobby Lou" (as we call him in these parts) able to repeat that performance in these 2009 playoffs.
Come Thursday, it will be a completely different story. You can bet that the Calgary Flames will draw from the final game of the season when they broke out for four unanswered goals after giving up the game's first tally.
They got their back-up goalie's first win of the season. Of course if you saw the game you would be tempted to say that Curtis McElhenny stole the win with a series of highlight-reel saves.
The team will also have a full complement, able to ignore a salary cap that was just as crippling as all the injuries they suffered to key players, since the salary cap becomes a non-issue come playoff time.
Technically speaking, the post-season is exclusively for the owners, and the players are playing for free, for the Cup and for a million-dollar pay-off for winning it all, to be split amongst the players.
The day after the season ended, GM Darryl Sutter called up a slew of talent from the farm team, the Quad-City Flames. This included banished defenceman Anders Ericsson, who had to clear re-entry waivers before joining the parent club.
Other call-ups include Kyle Greentree, Dustin Boyd, and goalie Leland Irving who is currently thought to be the heir apparent to Miikka Kiprusoff.
Because of the Flames' (expected and dreaded) implosion down the stretch, everyone it seems is writing them off. Considering that the Chicago Black Hawks swept the season series, this might just be the prediction to go with.
However, the last time the Hawks faced a fully healthy Flames team, they barely squeaked out an overtime victory.
The return of Rene Bourque gives Calgary that edge they enjoyed for most of the season on the penalty kill. Bourque has the speed and is a legitimate threat to score short-handed. Remember, he was in the middle of a career year with 21 goals when he went down with his ankle sprain.
Dion Phaneuf will be available for the opening round, and he is always a threat to score from the point. As well, the team is expected to re-activate stalwart stay-at-home defence-man Rhett Warrener if needed.
And with Robyn Regher expected to be unavailable in the first round, we just might see Rhett given the nod to fill the big void left by possibly the game's most effective shut-down force on the blue line today.
So the team now has to take on the one team that I said scared me the most. The Hawks are still scary, but they too stumbled down the stretch.
Despite everyone playing up the fact that the gang will play excited hockey in their first playoff round, people are forgetting that there are a whole lot of very talented players on the Flames who have also yet to play their first post-season tilt.
Players such as Ollie Jokkinen and goals-leader Mike Cammalleriare champing at the bit to play, and you can bet they'll be itching to make some kind of impactful statement.
The best prediction I have seen so far is the Hawks winning in six. Calary's most immediate goal is to gain the split in Chicago. If they can manage a series' tie in the first two, then the much vaunted home ice advantage reverts to the Flames.
I see this particular series going the distance and you read it here first: Do not be surprised to see Calgary advance to round two, despite all the circumstances favoring Chicago.
Want to talk some playoff hockey? Join me for Fire On Ice tonight (Wednesday) at 10:00 pm, EST, located at http://www.wildtalkradio.com. We'll take your calls and take a look at all the first-round match-ups, including the games that will have just ended as we go live to air!
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