The last time the Calgary Flames won a playoff round, Paul Martin ran Canada and George W. Bush ran the United States. It was the (magical) spring of 2004, and the Flames shocked the world by beating the division-leading Vancouver Canucks in the first round. Now, here we are 11 years (and 10 seasons) later, and the Flames are in the midst of another magical spring, and they can finish off the Vancouver Canucks tonight.
But don’t count on it being easy.
Vancouver’s best game of the series – by far – was Game 2, where after losing Game 1 at home, the Canucks came out and played a structured, poised and aggressive 60 minutes of hockey. Calgary also played on their heels the entire time, and struggled to adjust.
Now the shoe is on the other foot. Vancouver has played two okay games in Calgary, but the Flames responded to their Game 2 setback with two strong games at home. One more strong effort stands between them and a second round date with the Anaheim Ducks. In hockey, as in life, nothing is given to you; it’s up to the Calgary Flames to take this opportunity tonight, or risk Vancouver getting back into the series.
The puck drops after 8pm MT on CBC and Sportsnet 960 The Fan!
Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! The Flames are expected to go with an identical line-up as they went with for Games 3 and 4, which they won. That means Jonas Hiller starts for the fifth straight occasion! He’s been shaky at times in the series, but he’s always made key saves at key times when the Flames have needed him to.
Healthy extras for tonight include Drew Shore, Corey Potter and Markus Granlund. Oh, and a laundry list of Black Aces. Injured players include Mark Giordano, Lance Bouma, Paul Byron, Ladislav Smid and Raphael Diaz.
The challenge for the Flames will be maintaining their level of aggression and desperation in a scenario where the Canucks will be going all-out and have last change. The Flames were good at playing their counter-punch style in Game 1, and will need to maintain a high level of discipline to avoid going down early. So far in the series, the Canucks haven’t reacted well to being down on the scoreboard in Calgary. It’s up to the Flames to put them in that position at Rogers Arena and see how things go from there.
Per Cam Tucker of Metro Vancouver (among others), lines from yesterday’s practice:
D.Sedin – H.Sedin – Hansen
Baertschi – Bonino – Vrbata
Higgins – McMillan – Matthias
Kenins – Horvat – Dorsett
Edler – Tanev
Hamhuis – Weber
Bieksa – Sbisa
And by the sounds of it, Ryan Miller starts for the Canucks after being strong in relief in Game 4. Granted, score effects and all that, but he was better than Eddie Lack and probably gives them the best chance to win right now.
Healthy extras for the Canucks are Ryan Stanton and Linden Vey, as Alex Burrows and Brad Richardson join Zack Kassian on the injured list.
Expect the Canucks to throw everything but the kitchen sink at Calgary. While they may be disheartened by the way the series has gone to-date, they are still a veteran group and now will be like a cornered, wounded animal. They have nothing left to lose at this point, so expect a desperate, desperate bunch.
SUM IT UP
The most dangerous thing the Flames can be thinking right now is “Well, we’ve got three chances…” The 1994 Flames had the opportunity to kill the Canucks and didn’t. They had three chances. They blew them all.
I’ve praised the Flames this season for their poise. They have stepped up to challenges all season and when they have had the opportunity to kill a team’s playoff dreams – even a team as terrifying to play against as the Los Angeles Kings – they have managed to do so.
With the Anaheim Ducks, a very strong team, waiting in the wings for this series’ winner, it’s crucially important that the Flames find their poise and determination once more and finish the Vancouver Canucks off while they have the chance.