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Calgary Flames
Calgary vs. Detroit: MOP Squad's 2007 NHL Playoff Preview
By BRIAN PIKE, MOP Squad Sports Hockey Editor
Apr 12, 2007 - 8:46:50 PM

Detroit Red Wings (1) vs. Calgary Flames (8): Western Conference Quarterfinals

The Goods: Detroit (50-19-13) came on strong late to challenge Buffalo for the best record in the regular season, losing the President’s Trophy to them on a tiebreaker. The Wings were the premier franchise of the league all the way from the mid-90’s to early this decade, when they won Stanley Cups in 1997, 1998, and 2002, the latter with Dominik Hasek in goal, who retired after that win but has since returned to mixed results. While Detroit’s regular season dominance has continued, their struggles in the playoffs the last three seasons are well documented, though they may take some solace from the fact that the team that has upset them in all three of those seasons has made it all the way to the final before losing (Anaheim in 2003, Calgary in 2004, Edmonton in 2006). When Calgary (43-29-10 this season) upset the Wings in 2004 and went to the final, they relied on the goaltending of Miikka Kiprusoff, the scoring and leadership of Jarome Iginla up front, and a system of relentless forechecking and hard-working defense instituted by coach Darryl Sutter; since then, little has changed. Sutter is now solely general manager, passing the reigns to former assistant Jim Playfair. Iginla and Kiprusoff are still the most critical pieces of Calgary’s team, though the supporting cast is, on paper, significantly stronger than it was in 2004. Last season the Flames were the favourites, but were upset in the first round by Anaheim. Detroit was a disappointing 21st on the power play during the regular season, but an impressive 7th on the penalty kill. Calgary had the league’s 10th ranked power play and the 18th ranked power play.

The Key: Physical play. Detroit lost to Edmonton in the opening round last season in large part because the Oilers employed a trapping style and played it to perfection, forcing Detroit to dump the puck in and retrieve it. Detroit’s forwards were not fast or strong enough to do so on a regular basis, except for their fourth line, who weren’t talented enough to take advantage of it, and they lost because of it. Calgary, meanwhile, made it to the Finals in 2004 especially because of physical play and forechecking, but were beaten at their own game by the Ducks last year. Detroit has since added big, talented guys Todd Bertuzzi and Kyle Calder and the youthful exuberance of Valteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler to their forward ranks. Calgary’s changes up front have focussed more on scoring and finesse; Alex Tanguay, Craig Conroy, and Jeff Friesen are new this year, with quick centre Matthew Lombardi also playing a larger role. Detroit’s defense could be vulnerable to wearing out if Calgary can find that heavy forechecking game, with Niklas Kronwall out the next two months with a broken bone in his back meaning the team will have to rely heavily on aging veterans Chris Chelios, Mathieu Schneider and Nicklas Lidstrom. But Detroit knows that a perimeter game will only get them so far, especially against the Flames. The team that finds and maintains a physical edge will go a long way towards winning.

Detroit Wins If: Hasek can keep his head in the game. What happened last season with Hasek and the Senators, when he was injured during the Olympics and refused to play in the second round despite his teammates begging him to try, is in the past. Hasek has had a good, if unspectacular, season with the Wings so far. Detroit’s given Hasek as much leeway as possible to keep him healthy, and give up very few shots per game, which can make it tough for a goalkeeper to stay focussed, but Hasek seems to have responded well so far. He got in a bit of hot water in a game late during the season when he tried to draw a penalty but got scored on when he dove instead. Coach Mike Babcock took him to task for that publicly, but since then things have been quiet. Quiet is good in Hasek-land. If things stay quiet in Hasek-land, the Wings chances go way up.

Calgary Wins If: The expanded offensive support they’ve gotten for Iginla this season continues in the playoffs. Kristian Huselius and Daymond Langkow have had magnificent seasons offensively, each finishing with 77 points, and Tanguay, while not spectacular, has been a reliable contributor. That level of offensive support must continue, if not increase, if the Flames are going to win. When the Flames won in 2004, Iginla was great, but Calgary got offense from other players at key times to win. Sure, Iginla and Kiprusoff are critical to the Flames success, but Calgary’s chances of upsetting Detroit go way up if it’s about more than those two.

Bottom Line: Detroit should come out on top, but it won’t be easy. It seems like in each of the last two playoffs the thinking is that the Wings should have learned something from the upset of the season before, and while that’s a nice thought, it hasn’t worked out too well. Still, the additions of Calder and Bertuzzi (if he’s healthy) are a step forward from last season, and the Flames’ inconsistencies all season long have done little to inspire the confidence that they can pull off this upset. Wings in 5.

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