“Calgary is always one of the hardest places to play in the regular season,” said Chicago winger Adam Burish Sunday. “It's a crazy environment…a big hit or a big penalty kill and the crowd gets into it. You feed off that energy.”
That’s what the Flames and their faithful were hoping it would be like Monday night for Game 3 at the Pengrowth Saddledome. Because, down 2-0 in the series, Calgary needed it. And, more or less, that’s what the Flames got; a raucous crowd willing them to a win, an ominous win.
This series featured the most bodychecks of any through two games and was punishing again Monday. But punishment aside, it has become about a young Hawks team playing fast and loose and a Flames squad playing tight, obviously worried about not living up to expectations.
Olli Jokinen has been the poster boy for everything that’s gone wrong with Calgary in March and April and he added a new wrinkle to that story Monday by taking a dumb penalty less than two minutes in. Nine seconds later, it was 1-0 Chicago.
Jokinen redeemed himself as the game went on, earning an assist and crashing, banging and going to the net with reckless abandon; easily his best game of the series.
But despite the win, Game 3 was emblematic of the bigger problem with the Flames; outside of Miikka Kiprusoff and Jokinen Monday night, Calgary’s best players just haven’t been.
On Monday, Calgary’s top skaters were role players such as David Moss, Adam Pardy and Cory Sarich. Jarome Iginla spent the night watching from the bench during the Flames’ seven penalty kills and jawing with various Hawks; Dion Phaneuf threw a big hit or two, but otherwise continued his season-long funk; and Mike Cammalleri didn’t look like he can compete with the big bodies flying all over the ice.
On the flip side, Chicago’s players were — outside of Nikolai Khabibulin, who entered the game 5-0 against the Flames this season — its best players. Jonathan Toews, Martin Havlat and Patrick Sharp each had two points and were dangerous all night; Brent Seabrook, Cam Barker and Duncan Keith were towers of power on the blueline.
Most importantly and despite the disparities amongst the top players, the Flames won, ending their drought against the Hawks and Khabibulin and thrusting themselves back into the series.
Game 4 Wednesday night is sure to be one of the best of the first round; as physically demanding and intense as it gets. But if Calgary’s top players continue to get caught up in battles with Chicago’s role players, the Flames are going nowhere.
Iginla is one of the toughest guys in the league, but he’s much more valuable on the ice than in the sin bin, which is where he’s going to end up if things keep heading the way they are. Same goes for Phaneuf.
Let the James Vandermeers and Pardys deal with the Ben Eagers and Burishs. If that happens, Calgary can win this series. If not, the Hawks will.
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John Grigg is a copy editor and writer with The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his Tuesday blog and the Wednesday Top 10.
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