Behind Enemy Lines: My colleague Jim Neveau—Blackhawks Correspondent at The Hockey Writers (THW)—states his case, listing his Five Keys for Success for the Blackhawks.
Flames fans and hockey fans alike by now already know how futile the Flames attack has been against the Blackhawks.
Amassing a paltry one point in four contests against Chicago this season, as Michael Cammaleri summed it up, (courtesy of Randy Sportak at calgarysun.com) "We're due!" Calgary lost by a combined score of 19-7 in the four games against Chi-town.
So...should the Flames even show up in the Windy City for game one? Is it a foregone conclusion the young gun Hawks will extinguish the already flickering Flames?
It's an old cliché—but that's why they play the games. As Herb Edwards (click for video clip) emphatically stated a few years back, "You play—to win the game!" Indeed, the Flames will show up, but if they have any chance of succeeding against a talented Blackhawk squad, here are 10 keys for Flames victory they will likely have to accomplish.
1. Tear down the Bulin Wall! Khabibulin has been a Flames killer throughout his career, posting a 22-5-2 record against Calgary. Toss in his win in the seven game series Cup final in 2004 and you have a major psychological hurdle for Flames shooters to overcome.
2. Kipper to regain 2004 form. He has been good this year, but not as consistent as he will need to be if the Red Mile will be in fine form going well into the playoffs. At times, Kiprusoff has been outstanding, but with a depleted defense due to trips to the infirmary, the outstanding play will have to be more of a constant rather than sporadic.
3. Keenan et al have to find the best solution to have Iggy and Olli coexist. It's not a personality conflict, but rather an on-ice mismatch. Both are shooters and have not found the chemistry most thought would develop when Sutter brought in the big Finn center on trade deadline day.
We know how important Iggy is to the Flames (time to check out the Youtube hit video "Hey There Iginla" by a Calgary ophthalmologist) and his play seemed to pick up at the end of the season, even if the results were not there in terms of Flames victories.
4. The Blueline has to step up in the absence of Regehr and possibly Sarich. The two best defensive d-men are likely out of the Flames lineup. Phaneuf (reportedly a back injury) is also banged up. If the Flames have any hope of shutting down the likes of Kane, Toews, and Havlat, the remaining blueliners will have to play out of their minds.
The Flames have recalled Anders Ericsson, but that might just have the Hawks forwards licking their lips. Phaneuf, Leopold, Aucoin, and Pardy will be key performers on the back end.
5. Intensified physical play! The veteran Flames must step up and play an aggressive, but disciplined physical game and show the young Blackhawks what playoff hockey is all about.
6. Flames forwards will have to try and solve the highly effective duo of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook patrolling the Hawks back end, and/or take advantage of other defensive pairings. The afore mentioned duo is quickly becoming one of the best shutdown pairs in the league.
Keenan will have to work diligently to find ways to break through these guys. There might be holes back there to be found, however, as you think back to Brian Campbell's poor series against Calgary in last year's playoffs, when he was with San Jose.
7. Rene Bourque recovery from high ankle sprain and for him to regain his mid-season form. I'm sure he'd love to show his former club what they gave up on. Amazingly, only one of his 40 points (a PP assist) was not scored at even strength in his 58 games played.
The valuable PK and second line forward's absence was certainly felt when he went down. It wasn't a coincidence that Calgary's downward spiral coincided with Bourque's absence.
8. Solve the powerless PP. With the weapons the Flames have offensively, it's hard to fathom the Flames went the last 10 games without a PP marker (0-43 streak). Mix it up! Put some big bodies in front of the opposing netminder—Bertuzzi, Moss, Jokinen, even Phaneuf!
The Flames need to be less predictable, but keep it simpler at the same time. I don't have to acknowledge how important special teams are in the post-season.
9. Keenan must unlock the optimum line combinations for his club. He's not likely to start now, but his juggling of the lines drives me insane. Although some of the best ever constantly did it, such as Scotty Bowman, I'd rather see some of the linemates be more constant.
I think that added edge of anticipating where your teammate is going to be, not just where he is at the moment, makes a tremendous difference.
10. Without home ice advantage, the Flames must find the remedy for their road woes. They finished the season less than .500 away from the friendly confines of the Saddledome, but they'll have to take the Blackhawk Faithful in attendance in Chicago out of the game. As Scotty Bowman once said, "Every boo on the road is a cheer!"
aka The Hockey Spy
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