Thursday, May 20, 2004

Toss the final Shark on the Barbie!

10 years is a long time to wait for a Canadian team to have a chance to sip from Lord Stanley’s mug. But with Calgary’s 3-1 victory over San Jose on Wednesday night, Hockey in Canada has something to celebrate.

Darryl Sutter’s young team has gone much farther than anyone ever expected this playoff year as they add San Jose to the notches on their belt, Vancouver and Detroit already marked off they just wait for one more opponent. Marking a remarkable turnaround season Calgary advances to the Stanley Cup final in its first appearance in the playoffs in seven years, fifteen years since their last dance in the final. And this Flame team is getting there purely on work ethic, never quitting and seemingly of one mind to make this run last as long as possible. Sutter’s Flames continued to out work, out skate, out hit, out score and out play it’s competition. As Jarmoe Iginla and Martin Gelinas once again rose to the occasion to score when it was most needed, leading their team to a 4 game to 2 series victory in front of a jubilant Saddledome crowd.

In a series where home ice seemed to be a curse rather than a blessing the Flames took the lead and never looked back. Iginla opened the scoring in the first period and most certainly solidifies his credentials for Conn Smythe consideration should the Flames prevail in the next and final round of the playoffs with a Stanley Cup victory, he may even qualify if they don’t win the mug, though one suspects this guy wouldn’t want the trophy unless his team had captured the big hardware! His only competition may be Miikka Kiprusoff in nets, who continued to shine when needed by his Calgary team mates with yet another outstanding night in the Calgary goal. Martin Gelinas continued his amazing streak of scoring game winning goals and Robin Reghyr was credited with the final Flames goal, when Alexander Koryluk tried to pass the puck from behind the Flames net, it passed through the zone all the way into the empty Sharks net as time expired. The flames benefited from another strong game from Craig Conroy, who won an amazing 17 of 26 face-offs in the game to emphasize Calgary’s dominance in puck control. The checking line earned a standing ovation from the crowd, simply for shutting down the Sharks with a strong fore checking game. In short it was a total team effort for a coach who seems to specialize in having teams work together as a unit, all on the same page for the same goals.

The quality of Sutter’s coaching was easily spotted by the respect shown by the Shark players as they exited the Saddledome after the traditional series ending handshakes, to a man they lined up as Darryl Sutter stood by their bench to shake their hands on a hard fought series. Sutter who was the architect of this Shark’s team over his years in San Jose, had words for each player as he left the ice. It’s hard not to like a guy that shows this much respect for the game. And by the results shown it’s obvious that respect is a two way street.

The Flames carry on, carrying the hopes of a HockeyNation with them. The last Canadian team to have a shot at Stanley was the 1994 Vancouver Canucks who came within a goal of history in a thrilling seven game series with the Rangers. The last Canadian team to win the Cup, the Montreal Canadiens of 1993 who defeated a star studded LA Kings line up. Six days rest beckons the Flames now, as they await the winner of the Tampa Bay/Philadelphia series, with Tampa one victory away from joining the Flames.

The Flames captain said it best when he advised, “we’ll celebrate this, but we still have some work to do, we have four more wins to go.” Whether it be Philly or Tampa Bay it probably doesn’t matter to these Flames, this season has taken on a whole new feel to them, one of confidence. You get the feeling that they believe now, no longer just going along for the ride of a great season, there’s a sense of history awaiting them. Not wishing in any way to jinx these guys but you can’t help but feel that something good is coming Calgary’s way. After 11 years, Canada's Stanley Cup drought may soon be about to end. With everyone making a contribution to the effort, don’t be terribly surprised to see Jarome Iginla hoisting a few more trophies by the middle of June.

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