CALGARY — The Calgary Flames went home vowing to do a better job of caging the slippery, resilient Chicago Blackhawks than they did in The Windy City.
Down 2-0 in their Western Conference quarter-final series because they couldn’t protect leads in Chicago, the Flames have to hold serve at home starting with Monday’s Game 3 or it will be a long summer for a salary-cap club built for a long playoff run.
Calgary dropped to 0-6 versus the Blackhawks this season. The Flames squandered a two-goal lead in Game 2 after Chicago came from behind to win Game 1 in overtime.
“I think it is about getting that first one and that bubble burst and some momentum on our side and sealing a deal,” Flames captain Jarome Iginla said Sunday. “Once you get it, I think it can be a huge momentum shift to finally get rid of that 0-6.”
The Flames have never won a playoff series trailing 0-2. Teams holding a two-game lead in NHL playoff series have won 87.3 per cent of them in league history
Game 4 is Wednesday (TSN, 10 p.m. ET) at Pengrowth Saddledome and Game 5, if necessary, is back at the United Centre on Saturday.
The Flames didn’t skate, but held a team meeting Sunday. The Blackhawks had a light practice at the United Center before departing for Calgary, where they went 2-0 this season.
“We’ve been good there, but who cares now?” Chicago right-winger Adam Burish said. “It’s a different beast.
“Calgary is always one of the hardest places to play in the regular season. It’s a crazy environment. Just like you see here, even when you’re down a couple of goals we’ll get a big hit or a big penalty kill and the crowd gets into it. You feed off that energy.”
The Flames are up against the youngest team in the NHL playing with the devil-may-care, fearlessness of youth. It’s the older, more experienced Flames who have tightened up when the ‘Hawks pushed back after falling behind.
“Some of it is composure,” Iginla said. “We’ve come out and played really well and carried a lot of the play in the first period, the first half of the game. When they started getting some momentum back their way, we haven’t responded well enough.”
The Flames are disappointed, but not discouraged, according to head coach Mike Keenan. They’ve lost their first two games of the series by one goal. The shots on goal and penalty minutes are even, so the Flames feel they’re not far from wresting some momentum back in this series.
Calgary goaltender Mikka Kiprusoff and Chicago counterpart Nikolai Khabibulin have showcased their considerable talent in net in both games. Khabibulin continues to be Calgary’s nemesis after beating the Flames in the 2004 Stanley Cup final when he played for Tampa Bay.
Iginla scored the team’s first power-play goal Saturday since March 20 and the Flames kept Chicago’s stars off the scoresheet in the first periods of both games.
But turnovers and lapses in defence in the second periods have opened the door for Chicago comebacks. Just 24 seconds before the second-period buzzer Saturday, captain Jonathan Toews scored the eventual winner goal by splitting the Flames defence.
The Flames were thought to have the edge in muscle over the ‘Hawks, but Calgary is missing back-end punch.
Shut-down defenceman Robyn Regehr is out with a knee injury and hard-hitting Cory Sarich returned for Game 2, but played only seven minutes on a sore foot. While Dion Phaneuf is playing his usual big minutes, but his fitness is questionable after he sat out the last two games of the regular season. Trade-deadline acquisition Jordan Leopold is shouldering a bigger share of the workload.
Chicago picked holes in Calgary’s coverage with the speed and skill of Toews, David Bolland, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Martin Havlat. And the Blackhawks haven’t turned away from hard contact as hits were 37-35 for the Flames in Game 2. Former Prince George Cougar Dustin Byfulgien has a series-leading 14 hits.
Calgary needs more production from first-line centre Olli Jokinen, also acquired at the trade deadline, and Mike Cammalleri on the power play.
“A big part of it is on us veterans,” Iginla said. “It’s emotional, it’s an intense time. It’s the playoffs and it’s hard and it’s supposed to be hard.
“As veterans on the team, that’s when we’ve got to want the puck and we’ve got to go down and play in their zone and we’ve got to take that hit to make the play. We’ve got to respond with hits and get them turning back.”
The Blackhawks could be more susceptible to the emotional swings of the post-season because of their youth and lack of playoff experience.
The ‘Hawks had their playoff-starved faithful spurring them on at the United Centre. Calgary can bring them back down to earth with a pair of home wins, which would also ignite the famous downtown Red Mile that hasn’t had any reason to celebrate so far this series.
“We’re going to find out about our team and we want to make sure we go into that first period of the first game (and) we’ve got to respond,” Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville said. “We need a better start than we had the first two.”
The feeling-out process over after the series-opener, both sides are well into the spirit of post-season animosity. Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg of Lethbridge, Alta., was the target of the Flames’ ire for his incessant trash-talking Saturday. Todd Bertuzzi hammered him into the boards early in the game.
“It’s going to be important for us early and the whole game to sustain that physical side and that compete level and having our home crowd behind us with emotions and intensity is going to be great,” Iginla said. “We’ve got give them a reason to get excited.
“We’ve got to go out and win one game right now.”