CALGARY – Before the NHL quarter-final playoff series between Calgary and San Jose opened, Flames veteran Owen Nolan uttered a statement that may turn out to be prophetic.
“One of the biggest things will be how we use our size to play their playmakers,” Nolan said on the eve of Game 1. Cory Sarich’s thunderous check on Sharks captain Patrick Marleau in the first period of Sunday’s Game 3, which sparked a 4-3 Flames win coming back from a 3-0 deficit, was a case in point.
It was still the buzz in Calgary heading into Tuesday’s Game 4 with the Flames leading the series 2-1.
The Flames are one of the most physical teams in the NHL when they put their mind to it. They outhit the opposition in more than three-quarters of their regular-season games.
“I hope we rank right up there when we’re going,” Sarich said. “It’s part of the physical makeup of the guys in here.
“There’s lots of guys who have thrown their body around their whole career. It’s what makes them successful. It has to be part of our game if we have to make things happen out there.”
Most of that contact comes from Calgary’s back end. Dion Phaneuf, Robyn Regehr and Sarich all ranked in the NHL’s top 40 hitters at the end of the regular season.
Phaneuf was 16th with 194, Sarich was 35th at 157 just ahead of Regehr, who was 38th at 154.
“I’ve thrown my fair share around the league over the years,” Sarich said. “Sometimes you go for stretches when you get away from it for awhile.
“Maybe that’s good and teams forget and you can give them a little reminder when you’re flying under the radar. I’ve always considered myself to be a physical player and have a fair amount of hits every year.”
The Flames signed Sarich as a free agent last summer for $18 million over five years and thus added another hard man to the blue-line.
Sarich, six foot four and 207 pounds, was the NHL’s Ironman for consecutive games played until he was scratched March 1, which ended his streak at 453 games.
Ten days prior to that, he’d taken a puck in the teeth in Dallas and returned to the game with stitches and a full visor.
Catching Marleau with his head down was a gift and Sarich made the most of it. No penalty was called on Sarich, although the Sharks disagreed it was a clean hit.
“If the opportunity is there to run over somebody, you’re going to run over that person no matter who they are, or try to,” Sarich said. “You can’t go running at guys in the defensive zone if they’ve got full control (of the puck).”
The Flames ranked fifth in the NHL in penalty minutes. If they’re going to upset the No. 2 team in the league in this playoff series, they know they have to keep their contact foul-free.
“You’ve got to be smart about it and you’ve got to be clean,” Sarich said. “Most penalties that are called are penalties. There’s the odd one that isn’t.
“That’s on our shoulders to be smart away from the puck and keep things clean and stay out of that box.”