The Calgary Flames know they are facing a formidable opponent in the Detroit Red Wings, a team that thrives on puck possession
by Mike Board
Calgary centre Daymond Langkow didn't beat around the bush when it came to describing the Detroit Red Wings, the Calgary Flames first round opponent in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"They can mesmerize you if you let them," said Langkow.
He was referring to the Wings penchant for puck control. A skilled line-up the Wings are patient, willing to start the rush over if it doesn't work the first time. A panic dump off the glass, or an icing call, are the final options.
"They move the puck well," said Langkow. "They skate well. It's a matter of being disciplined in the system areas. You can't get caught watching the puck. If you follow the puck you can get into trouble. They are all over the place. You have to stay disciplined when you play against a team like that."
The Flames and Red Wings met in 2003-04 with the Flames winning the series in six games. The Flames won twice at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit and were the more physical team, a team that wore down the skilled Red Wings.
The Flames are expected to try a similar tactic this time around -- play a smart, hard-checking game.
"You need to be physical and fast but you need to do that within the rules of the game," said head coach Jim Playfair."But we have to establish a physical presence. That's the key."
The Wings, however, have added some grit since the last playoff meeting -- think Todd Bertuzzi and Kyle Calder for starters.
"They are underrated as a team that can grind it out," noted Playfair. "They have adjusted their roster."
Despite losing four straight heading into the playoffs, the Flames are looking at the playoffs as a new beginning.
"We don't want to spend our time looking back," said Playfair. "The slate is clean for all 16 playoff teams. It's playoff hockey now. We battled all season long to put ourselves in a position to win the Stanley Cup. So it is absolutely a fresh start."
Statistically, the teams are close. The Wings, winners of the Western Conference had 17 more points in the regular season. But both teams were outstanding at home with the Wings winning 29 games and collecting 66 points and the Flames winning 30 at the 'Dome and collecting 62 points.
The top scorers are Jarome Iginla for the Flames with 39 tallies and Henrik Zetterberg with 33 for the Wings. Iginla was the Flames top point-getter with 94 points while Pavel Datsyuk led the Wings with 87
The regular season series was split, with each team winning twice. Both scored 12 goals and gave up 12 goals. The Flames held an edge in the power play department, going six-for-16 while holding the strong Red Wing attack to three goals in 18 chances.
Not much separates the goalies, either.
Miikka Kiprusoff has a 2.48 goals against average against the Wings while Dominik Hasek finished at 2.68 against the Flames.
"You want to think about getting shots to the net and getting traffic in front of him," said Langkow of playing against Hasek, who won a Stanley Cup with the Wings in 2002. "Obviously he is a good goalie and he is going to stop most of what he sees. So you want to get traffic and jump on pucks in front of the net."
While the Flames are considered the underdogs, they don't seem too worried at this point.
"It's going to be an up-tempo series and it is going to be won in the hard areas. It will be tight-checking. It will be a rough series," said Playfair.
Game 1 goes Thursday at the Joe Louis Arena. Start time is 5 p.m. MT and the game is on CBC and The Fan 960 radio.