Thursday, March 29, 2007

Burn Baby, Burn

I hope you don't mind if I take a moment to talk about another team other than the Caps this morning. I mean, let's face it - there won't be much to talk about regarding our boys until at least July 1.

Okay. They might win a game or two between now and the end of the season.

Meh. It could happen.

Anyways...don't worry, I'm not going to talk about the Habs, at least not right now. I get the distinct feeling that, from the lack of response I get whenever I talk about Les Canadiens, you all couldn't care less (although that's not going to completely dissuade me...you just get a reprieve for today). So instead l'll discuss a team that Washingtonians probably care even less about - the Calgary Flames.

I have kind of adopted the Flames as my third team in the last few years. I'll be honest, before their surprising 2004 playoff run I really knew very little about them. Yet I don't consider myself a bandwagon fan, not really. I remember being in Canada and watching their first round series against the Vancouver Canucks, and there was just something about this team. They reminded me of the kind of Caps team I loved watching - tenacious, hard-working, tight knit...just so much fun to root for.

That first series was one of those that becomes embedded in the memory for the complete playoff essence it carries with it. Every penalty is do or die, every shot dead on, every check followed through. I couldn't tell you who scored the second goal in the third game or who led each team in ice time in game four. I couldn't tell you what was the momentum-swinger for each match. I really could have picked either team to fall in love with for the pure grit and entertainment value that was brought to the ice each game. But I always had a soft spot for Jarome Iginla and I have an even bigger soft spot for underdog teams, so Calgary it was.

I didn't think they would win that round. No one thought they would win that round. But they did, and it kind of cemented them in my mind as my Western Conference choice. Bear in mind, that same year saw the Habs storm back to defeat Boston in 7 games, another upset, so I was flying high - in my little world of completely warped reality I envisioned these two underdog teams racing through the rest of the postseason, their run culminating in an epic battle for the Cup.

Well, it didn't exactly happen that way. Montreal lost to eventual Cup winners the Lightning in round 2 and just like that my entire focus shifted to a highly entertaining Flames team. The icing on the cake for me was their second round defeat of the Red Wings (but lets be honest, isn't any Red Wings defeat an icing moment?) and I was hooked. I loved Jarome Iginla, naturally, and was amazed by Miika Kiprusoff, naturally. But what I loved about that Flames team were the gritty, character guys that I love to this day - Conroy, Warrener, Regehr, and of course, our very own Chris Clark.

Watching them race through the Sharks in the Conference Finals, I had the feeling shared by every Flames fan across Calgary - they could really win this, the whole thing. It was possible. They played what still in my mind was one of the greatest Stanley Cup Finals I've ever seen, culminating in a breathtaking game 7 that unfortunately went the wrong way. But I didn't stop following the Flames when the season ended or when the lockout froze the hockey world in a kind of suspended animation. I watched them fall to the still-Mighty Ducks in the first round of the 2006 playoffs, and I've continued to keep my eye on them even while being completely absorbed in a Caps-Habs world.

It's been an interesting voyage this season, not unlike that of a Caps fan for all its ups and downs. The Flames, while dominant at home, have proven to be on par with our own homebodies in their lack of effectiveness on the road. Their inability to win in the shootout has also hampered their advance. Still, they've hung in there for most of the year, hovering among the middle to bottom of the Western Conference standings. The return of Craig Conroy and a few other trades have bolstered the lineup for the stretch run.

They've recently had a bit of a scare as Colorado has decided to start playing hockey right about the time everyone had counted them out, and the Flames are having to look over their shoulders a bit. A once gaping lead over the Avs has become a much slimmer margin that peaked at just 5 points, and they remain the only Western Conference team that has yet to clinch a playoff spot. They've responded well, though, winning four straight overall and two straight on the road including one elusive shootout win against Minnesota to regain a more comfortable (but still not cozy) 7 point cushion.

Tonight Iggy and the boys take on the Wild for the second half of a two game series and the final game of the eight between these division rivals. The Flames look to extend their road-winning streak to three games, their first such streak since March of 2004, and will be watching the scoreboard as the Avs and Coyotes battle later tonight in the desert. It's one of those storylines that, while not filled with as much intrigue or as many scenarios as the Eastern Conference playoff battle, is still thrilling to watch and could go down to the wire. Go Flames Go!

[Feel better, HG :) ]

1 comment:

Victor said...

This is a beautiful, well-written post...and should help HG feel a bit better.