Gotta thank Dave Thomas (aka SundevilD) for not only slipping a Ringo reference into his last post, but also reminding me of a time when we loved the Flames so completely and utterly that we would commit a break-and-enter at the old Stampede Corral and then hide out in its various dark corners for three or four hours just so we could see them in the playoffs. (For the record, it was Game 6, quarter-finals, vs. the Flyers, 1981. The game was electric, Flames lost in a thriller, then dumped the Flyers back at the old Spectrum in Game 7.)
That was a team that played well over its head for the past month of the season and then kept doing so in the playoffs, scratching its way all the way to Game 6 of the semi-finals. It had scoring depth, it was big and physical, it pounded teams into the dust in its own building. Suffice to say, the current Flames aren’t much like it. And we have a lot of trouble loving it the same way, as much as we’d like a reason to.
My kingdom for a Willi Plett.
Still, through some miracle of the Hockey Gods (who, I hasten to add, were not merely toying with Flames fans a couple of weeks ago, they were giving us atomic wedgies), the Flames are somehow once again in the thick of the playoff race. They could actually make it. As Dave said, it wouldn’t even be that hard – IF THEY WIN TONIGHT.
A loss tonight is simply not an option. A loss tonight means the end of the season, probably the end of Darryl Sutter’s GM career, and a long, depressing visit to Rebuidingland (which is way less fun than Disneyland, or even Searinggaspainland).
A win, though, that changes everything, right? Well, it doesn’t change the fact that this is a team with no front-line prospects, no cap space, no draft picks until the third round. But it could steer the S.S. Sutter away from the iceberg.
This is absolutely winnable. The Avalanche have entered Choke Country themselves, sucking hard on the gas pipe just when it seemed they were going to coast into the playoffs. They’re young, their goaltending is inconsistent, they are prone to lapses at least as bad as the Flames have demonstrated, their coach has never been in a playoff race before. It’s all showing, at the worst possible time.
But to make it happen, they Flames are going to have to do a lot of little things right – something they’ve had trouble doing consistently since, oh, November. Here’s a short list of the ingredients necessary to whip up a win in Denver tonight:
1. Kiprusoff. It starts and finishes in goal. Kipper needs to be at his best. When he is, we’re never out of any game.
2. Iginla has to show up. And I mean the old Iggy – the one driving to the net, going hard into corners and coming away with the puck, hurting anyone who dares get in his way. Screw the set-up man, the responsible two-way forward. Want the puck, take the puck, own the puck, score. Simple.
3. Puck pressure. A hard, fast, aggressive forecheck. Colorado’s D isn’t a deep one – there are guys there who will cough up the puck if rushed. Rush them.
4. Puck support. Bodies near the puck in the offensive zone, defence jumping in. We need to give guys places to pass the puck, open up some shooting lanes, increase the options and the chances.
5. Collapsing around the net in the defensive zone. Colorado has a lot of perimieter players. Keep them out there, clear the front, fill the shooting lanes.
6. Help from the supporting cast. If the third and fourth lines can generate a goal or two, it can change evereything. Eric Nystrom, please step up – again.
7. Hit. Early. Often. Continually. Don’t let up.
8. Score the first goal, early.
This game is easy, isn’t it?
Go. Flames. Go.