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Thursday's match-up in Anaheim can't come quick enough for the Flames

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

ANAHEIM - Not a moment too soon.

"Kinda been the same questions the last three days, for everybody,'' Matt Stajan is saying, following a 2 p.m. practice at the Honda Center, on the eve of hostilities. "You guys asking and us answering.

"So I'd say we're all just happy to get this going.

"I know we are. We're ready.

"This is what we play for. This is what we've been waiting for.

"It's here. And it'd be an understatement to say we're excited to get going."

With every possible storyline thoroughly analyzed, dissected and chewed over like a frisky puppy's toy rubber bone, the Calgary Flames and Anaheim Ducks finally collide in Game 1 of their opening-round best-of-seven series.

It promises to be long and hard and positively teeming with subplots.

"I guess we'll see what happens,'' shrugged centreman Mikael Backlund, fulcrum of the 3M Line. "At first, it might be a little heated. But both teams want to be smart about that stuff. I can't see it being too much of a gong show, like last game.

"You never know what's going to happen.

"We've got to keep it simple, for sure. Pucks in, pucks out. As boring as it sounds, that's what we've got to do. If we can play fast in the neutral zone and create some O-zone pressure, we will for sure have a good advantage."

In opting to fly into Orange County a day early, the Flames went slightly against usual protocol.

"I think it was important,'' admitted boss Glen Gulutzan in his turn on stage in front of the official NHL Playoff backdrop. "At first I wanted to keep things the same but (GM) Brad Treliving said he wanted to get here a day early. After the travel day (Tuesday) it was certainly the right call by Tre.

"It was good to get here, get settled and get a practice at the Honda Center."

Video: Gulutzan on the atmosphere surrounding the team

Thursday, the live ammo starts flying for real.

The topic of discipline, given the fractious history between the two combatants, has been a consistent theme during the build-up to the opener.

"We're expecting a whistle-to-whistle series,'' said Gulutzan. "That's how we're approaching it.

"We want to play fast. We want to not dust the puck off too much. We want to get the puck moving north-south as quickly as we can.

"I think you're going to see a lot of our players' games elevate. To play against Anaheim, you need a good blend. They certainly have a lot of weapons so you need a good blend of weight and speed."

Thursday is what these Flames have been building towards since September. They've grown in confidence and stature, identified the right blend of skills and strengths. Their bigger physically than their last post-season appearance two years ago to better cope with the attrition of a tough series, sounder and deeper at key positions, and full of possibilities.

"To be quite frank, I'm excited to see lots of our guys in these playoffs,'' confessed Gulutzan. "I'm excited to see Ferly. I was part of the Vancouver crew two years and he was certainly the most effective player, I felt, for both teams.

"I think we've got a lot of guys who can step up. I'm excited to see our group."

One more sleep.

The wait is over.

Not a moment too soon.

"We're the underdog,'' agreed Stajan, sounding utterly indifferent to the label. "And that's fine.

"Everybody talks about it'll play out before it even starts. The series will take on a shape of its own as it evolves.

"If everybody does his own job here, it'll all come together for us. To win this series, we understand we have to take at least one in this building. I mean, we can do the math.

"We believe we have the group in here to make that happen. Whatever anybody else says or thinks or predicts … is irrelevant.

"What we believe: That's all that really matters. And we'll finally get to put that belief to the test starting tomorrow night."

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