April 14 2009 08:42PM
For the Calgary Flames, there’s never been an entry to the playoffs quite like this one. Thanks to a combination of injuries and salary-cap gridlock – or call it unforgivable fiscal mismanagement, if that floats your boat – there was a decidedly surreal atmosphere in the regular season’s final couple of weeks.
“Hey, teenaged defenceman fresh out of junior stepping into the lineup! Look, a perfectly useful NHL forward playing on the farm because we don’t want him cashing cheques in Calgary! And what about that phantom fourth line? You remember all those times last season when you smart-alec fans watched Mark Smith, Eric Godard and Marcus Nilson churning around out there and you wondered if the Flames would be better off with no fourth line at all? Well I guess we found out, didn’t we?”
Of course, most of that doesn’t matter now. Well, the part about gimpy-kneed Robyn Regehr not being able to play matters, as does the fact that some Flames fans are actually happy to see Anders Eriksson back in town. But at least the CBA Three-card Monte involving John Negrin, Dustin Boyd and Matt Pelech is taking a powder for the rest of the season. However long that is.
For better or worse, here the Flames are and the more grounded members of the Calgary fanbase are desperately trying to figure out if there’s any basis for believing a fourth straight first-round sayonara isn’t at hand.
The fun part of this time of the season (and by fun, we mean so incredibly frustrating that we’re tempted to reach for the closest sharp object and puncture our own eardrums) is that half-baked opinions are put forth by everyone from panel “experts” to bandwagon fan as gospel truth.
One beauty that has been spouted by at least two national broadcasters in the last little while is that springtime is the time Darryl Sutter will regret the fact he didn’t land a veteran backup for Miikka Kiprusoff at the trade deadline. That one is so dumb, it’s hardly worth addressing. Honestly, the Flames are in tough against the Blackhawks with Kiprusoff between the pipes, so what difference could it possibly make if the guy working the door on the bench is Curtis McElhinney, Leland Irving, Martin Gerber, Marc Denis, Manny Legace or, for that matter, Rick Tabaracci?
As inconsistent as Kiprusoff has been this season, he’s the only realistic option for the Flames and Plan B in the crease ranks about 417th on the list of critical factors for Calgary’s chances at post-season success.
Assuming Regehr has to be written off for the entire series, No. 1 and 1A on said list could very well be the availability and viability of Rene Bourque and Curtis Glencross. Kent of Five Hole Fanatics (and this site) could tell the advanced metrics story far better, but the bottom line is Bourque and Glencross were excellent even-strength players for the Flames this season. Heck, at one point, Bourque was one of the top 10 even-strength players in the whole wide NHL. And, without resorting to those hackneyed terms like grit and sandpaper, No. 17 and No. 20 strike you as players who would hold up well to the playoff rigours.
A few other notes and musings about the series:
- Even though there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary, there’ll be lots of talk about the importance of momentum going into the playoffs (ie the 'Hawks finished 6-0-1 while the Flames wobbled home 4-6 and haven’t beaten a playoff team since March 23). It should almost go without saying, but far more important than any slump or hot streak are the underlying reasons for the run, good or bad. For the Flames, there are certain bugaboos that will just work themselves out (the undermanned roster, a ridiculous power-play dry spell that simply won’t continue, some of their injury issues) and there are others that will be an issue whether it’s September, January or April (some of the big-name forwards’ iffy five-on-five play, Dion Phaneuf’s major defensive issues, the all-too-evident mortality and not infrequent mediocrity of Kiprusoff).
- Will the Brian Campbell the Flames see this year be any better than the Brian Campbell who gave Calgary a fighting chance in their series against San Jose 12 months ago?
- Double bad news for the Flames – Chicago forward Patrick Sharp is probable for Game 1; erratic Chicago defenceman Brent Sopel is out.
- Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Martin Havlat, Nikolai Khabibulin, Duncan Keith et al will get most of the pub, but Sami Pahlsson is quietly one of the keys to Chicago’s post-season hopes.
- Potential secret weapon for the Flames? How about Eric Nystrom, who responded pretty well to the additional ice time in the late-season going.
- All that said, the prediction here is Chicago in five.
- And one final question, after all the years that certain elements of the media screamed about the Flames’ need for a True No. 1 Centreman™ (and ignoring all the panel guesspert gossip about dressing-room cancers) who is the better hockey player: Daymond Langkow or Olli Jokinen? Please discuss.