It’s going to be root, root, root for the home team Monday in Calgary, as the Flames attempt to stay alive in their Western Conference matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Through five games, the host city has won every time and while this is an elimination night for the Flames, it’s a definite momentum-turner if the young Hawks can’t steal a game on foreign soil.
Admittedly, the Blackhawks have performed above and beyond a lot of people’s expectations (myself included) in this series, largely because experience usually plays such a big role in the post-season. Since Chicago had the least experience of any NHL playoff team, logic dictated the Hawks would be taught a swift lesson by the veteran Flames.
But the young guns have showed up to play. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Cam Barker and Brent Seabrook have all been point-per-game players so far and one of the few Hawks with years of post-season experience – Martin Havlat – is tied for the team lead with six points through five games.
Actually, the Hawks are getting so much balance in their scoring, you can almost overlook the fact Patrick Kane has just two points through four appearances.
So here’s where it gets tricky: We now know Chicago can hold serve in the playoffs, but can the team steal a game on the road and at the same time, close out a series? Much like New York in the East, momentum could be very much against the Hawks if Calgary forces a Game 7, despite the fact the game will be in Chicago.
For the Flames, the key to wresting this series back is simple: their best players must be their best players. Miikka Kiprusoff was shellacked in Game 5 and obviously doesn’t have any more room for mulligans. Jarome Iginla was pointless and a minus-3 Saturday, while Olli Jokinen was minus-2 and also held off the scoresheet. With the ‘Sea of Red’ behind them, look for the Flames to be a lot more competitive in Game 6.
Out west, Anaheim will also have two shots to eliminate the San Jose Sharks, but with the hosting duties reversed. Unlike the Blackhawks, the Ducks already know how to close out a playoff series and, really, all the pressure is on San Jose not to choke away another Stanley Cup run.
With the Ducks hosting in the friendly confines of the Honda Center, coach Randy Carlyle will get the final line change, which could be a key strategic factor. It goes without saying the media glare – not to mention the attention of fans and Sharks coach Todd McLellan – has been focused on Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau once again, as it should be.
Will Carlyle go strength-on-strength, matching his own power forward extraordinaire Ryan Getzlaf on Thornton’s line? Getzlaf, along with linemates Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan, have each done their parts during the series so far, which is especially important since future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne has struggled offensively.
Even a modicum of scoring from Selanne gives the Ducks a big advantage at home, not to mention the No. 1 seed Sharks must be gripping their sticks pretty tight right now.
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Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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