Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Battle Orders denied

The Battle of Alberta was not to be. A pivotal game seven, a huge and enthusiastic crowd and a chance to renew acquaintances with their northern cousins on the horizon, they were all part of the scene setter for the Calgary Flames. And then they came out and laid the biggest egg since the Calgary Stampede cake and eggs breakfast feasts in July.

One statistic tells all about this disappointing 3-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks; one shot on goal for Calgary in the second period, one shot on goal. It would set the tone for the Ducks as they claimed game seven as their own and took the series 4 games to 3.

For most of the night, Anaheim dictated the play to the Flames; they boxed them up, clogged them in the neutral zone and denied them any offensive chances in the Anaheim end of the rink.

If it wasn’t for the built in drama of a game seven showdown this would have been one horrendously boring hockey game. It was chip it in and then chip it out for most of the game. Slow and plodding at time the pace was not the thing of end to end rushes and breath taking playmaking.

The Anaheim defence didn’t lose the battles on the boards; they denied the flames their blue line and any shots that managed to find their way to the Duck goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov were handled easily, rebounds taken care of by the defensive corps of the Ducks.

The Flames did not seem to have any energy for what should have been a do or die game, they couldn’t get untracked all night long, errant passes were easily taken care of by the Ducks. Calgary could not find a way out of the hole they dug themselves from period one on. Once the Ducks had that first goal they shut it down even further, choking off the Calgary attempt at an attack as soon as they turned up the ice.

The Ducks were on top of them through the series and in game seven they totally dominated the Flames, shutting down Jarome Iginla, the final battle of the seven game series going the way to Scott Niedermayer, he and Iginla went at it for seven games, in the final one it was advantage Niedermayer, series Anaheim.

Anaheim surprised many with their run through the final months of the season, a team that came from nowhere to be a team to be reckoned with in the playoffs. Two key acquisitions by Brian Burke set the tone for the team and proved their worth in game seven. Beyond Niedermayer’s determination in shutting down the Flames in key moments it was Teemu Selanne who put the puck in the net when it mattered most.

Head coach Randy Carlyle had the Ducks playing disciplined and smart hockey, they weren’t goaded into dumb penalties to allow the Flames a chance to get back into the final game. His team executed a shut down of the Flames to perfection, from the corners, through the neutral zone and across the Blue line, the Flames just couldn’t gain the zone, if you can’t get to the net, there’s little danger of you putting a puck into it.

The Ducks move on to the second round and a battle with the Colorado Avalanche beginning Friday night. The Flames and their fans now turn their gaze northwards to their cousins in Edmonton, as they take on the San Jose Sharks, moving on to a different battle order than most expected heading into the game tonight.

There will be no Battle of Alberta this year, the Red Mile denied a spring run on beer and spirits, hockey fans across Canada denied what would have been a magical war and Hockey Night in Canada denied what would have been a marquee match up to build the ratings.

Instead, it’s the hockey outposts of San Jose, Anaheim and Raleigh that move forward, hardly hockey hotbeds, but home for the moment of teams that seemed to want things just a little bit more.

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