There’s a natural assumption the Calgary Flames are back in their series with Chicago because they’re playing better playoff hockey on home ice.
Truth of the matter is the Flames played their two best games during the two losses in Chicago and were stymied by the exceptional goaltending of Nikolai Khabibulin. It wasn’t until Habby’s bubble burst in Game 3, then evaporated in Game 4 that allowed Calgary to even the series.
But the Flames played well only in spurts in Games 3 and 4. They blew a three-goal second-period lead when they decided to take penalties and stop working hard. How does that happen on home ice? It was the defensive shell Calgary went into with a 2-1 lead in Game 1 that cost them. Blame the comfort factor of a 4-1 lead for letting the Flames down in Game 4.
It also didn’t help that Miikka Kiprusoff was unable to come up with any big saves in the second period when Calgary needed it most. On a night when Khabibulin is again substandard and Kipper has a chance to even the score against him, he can’t deliver. Go figure.
Going into the third period tied 4-4, both teams realized the final 20 minutes were the most important of the series. A Calgary win and the series starts all over again as a best-of-three. A Chicago win and the 3-1 series lead becomes virtually insurmountable.
Calgary held an edge in play in the third and went ahead on Eric Nystrom’s controversial goal in which linemate Daymond Langkow sparked the play with a discreet hand pass that went unnoticed by officials.
CASUALTIES OF WAR
Calgary has been the aggressors in this series against the young, skilled Hawks, but the Flames are looking far more beaten up. Winger Rene Bourque didn’t dress in Game 4 after sustaining an unnamed injury on a vicious cross check by Chicago’s Adam Burish in the final seconds of Game 3.
Then third-line center Craig Conroy was injured on a hit by Burish late in the first period of Game 4. He didn’t receive another shift. Also, winger Curtis Glencross was cut and stitched up during the second period.
If that wasn’t enough, Langkow looked to injure his hand when he blocked a shot with six minutes remaining. He didn’t return.
The Flames went almost exclusively with three lines as fourth-liners Andre Roy and Warren Peters were used sporadically.
Show off your hockey knowledge by entering The Hockey News’ FREE Playoff Challenge!
THN.com’s Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazi