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37 FOR 37: CUTTING IT CLOSE

Flames escaped opening round of 1989 Cup run with heart-pumping Game 7 overtime victory over underdog Canucks

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

Mostly, Joel Otto felt used up. Spent. All the gas siphoned from his tank.

As if he could sleep for a week.

"You're just so … tired,'' recalled the big centreman. "You put so much into it. And it's so … hard.

"I don't score too many goals but that's one I guess people will always remember.

"Whoever thought that it would go in off my skate? Pepper (Jim Peplinski) was driving his wide, using his strength.

"I just wanted to get to the net and create some havoc. I was in the crease but that was allowed back then.

"And I didn't kick the puck.

"So, good goal."

No, from a Flames' perspective, a great goal. An historic goal. A face-saving goal.

April 15, 1989. And the narrowest of escapes, worthy of Indiana Jones.

Heading into their first-round playoff series, the 117-point Presidents Trophy-winning Flames were expected to breeze past the Vancouver Canucks, who finished a whopping 43 points in arrears of them in the NHL standings.

But when the Canucks shocked the Stanley Cup favorites right in the sanctity of their own living room, the Saddledome, 4-3 in Game 1, a murmur of uncertainty began to spread in both camps.

The west coast hero that night, ex-Flame Paul Reinhart, only added to Vancouver's sudden mojo.

As the Flames would discover over the ensuing 10 days, the role of prohibitive favourite can be a taxing one.

"Everybody's telling you that you should be winning in four or five,'' explained Calgary coach Terry Crisp of the experience. "Then, once you get by the fourth game and it's tied, you're thinking 'Oh, s--!' Then Game 5 comes and Game 6 and then it's like 'What the hell?! We're going to Game 7?!'

"That's when the old Adams Apple starts to bob."

Up and down, up and down, up and down, at breakneck speed during a tense, back-and-forth deciding game.

An old ally, centre Brian Bradley, had called his former team out in the build-up to Game 7.

"Calgary,'' he challenged, "hasn't proven themselves in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"They've choked as much as anyone."

It was in that hothouse atmosphere that the team which would later that spring write its name in history faced its most telling test.

Following the first-game upset, the Flames won the next two but coach Bob McCammon's band of plucky underdogs bounced back in Game 4 and then staved off elimination in Game 6 via a 6-3 effort at home at Pacific Coliseum to set up a winner-take-all showdown on the 15th.

No, the Canucks would not go quietly into the night.

Amping up the pressure, Vancouver defenceman Doug Lidster sent Game 7 into overtime at 7:12 of the third period, gloving down a clearing attempt at the Calgary blueline, his shot caroming off Flames' defenceman Brad McCrimmon and beyond goaltender Mike Vernon.

The little homegrown goaltender would, though, have his say before the night was done. Vernon's overtime pad save off Petri Skriko, another off Tony Tanti and as a capper a dandy glove snag to deny Stan Smyl off a breakaway down the right flank were what allowed Otto to drive to Kirk McLean's net, the puck bounced in off his right skate at 19:21 of the first OT period.

They remain touchstone moments in a championship for a generation of Flames' fans.

"It was a do-or-die situation,'' the 42-save goaltender said afterwards. "I just tried to forget about everything and concentrate on the puck and what was happening in front of me."

Progress had been secured, but it had been a near thing.

"That series, that game,'' said Crisp years later, "was our test; that big hurdle we had to get over.

"Vancouver played great. They were much better team than anyone gave them credit for.

"After that, though, for us, everything seemed easier."

Fifteen games, later, they'd be lifting the Stanley Cup on hallowed ground, the fabled Montreal Forum.

 

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