The Flames-Blackhawks series begins anew tonight in Chicago. The series is tied at two, and no team has won on the road yet, so everything remains up for grabs in Game 5.
Going into the contest, it's tough to see where the momentum lies. The Flames have won the past two games, but remain vulnerable to lapses like the one that allowed Chicago to score three unanswered goals and tie Game 4 in the second period. Now that the Blackhawks are on their home turf, they will surely be energized by their rabid fans, and the Flames know to offset that they will have to maintain the work ethic that got them back into the series.
"It's tied up, but we can't be satisfied by any means, we can't be complacent - we've got to push forward. If we put our minds to it, we can achieve anything. It's up to us," said Jordan Leopold. Whatever they've gotten, it's because our lack of discipline, lack of execution. If we take care of business in our locker-room, we'll be fine."
The offense that eluded the team in their first two losses was found at the Saddledome, as the Flames were able to find a great deal of success against Nikolai Khabibulin, scoring 9 goals in Games 3 & 4. Adrian Aucoin knows that the formula for success against Khabibulin is simple.
"We're shooting the puck a lot, we're getting bodies in front of him... we know how good he is so we've got to get bodies, and create screens, and get a lot of rebounds," said Aucoin.
Going back to Chicago, the Flames cane reflect on their excellent play in the first periods of both Games 1 & 2, even though they allowed the Hawks to come back and win both games. The team is winless in Chicago this season, but having claimed the momentum from the Hawks after two sound victories at home, the Flames are going to do their best to build on the successes they did enjoy last time at the United Center.
"Any time you play in another team's building and you have a little success, you can build on that. But it's certainly not going to be easy. We've got to prepare ourselves to play a tough road game," said David Moss.
"It's huge to be tied 2-2, we could be ahead in the series from the way we played," agreed Eric Nystrom. "We've got some confidence now."
Unfortunately the victories in Games 3 & 4 did not come without cost, as Rene Bourque, Daymond Langkow, and Craig Conroy all went down with varying injuries. Langkow is expected to play in Game 5 but Bourque and Conroy will be gametime decisions. The players know they will have to pick up their play to compensate for their fallen brethren, but are confident they will have as many hands on deck as possible.
"It's playoffs, it's amazing how quickly guys can heal in a couple of days," said Adrian Aucoin. "There's always going to be bumps and bruises, guys are used to playing through it this time of year."
Other teammates look at the injuries as an opportunity for the young players, who have played well for the most part when called upon, to make a name for themselves on the biggest of stages.
"We've got extra guys who are working hard, we've got guys that are ready to step into the lineup," said Olli Jokinen.
Regardless of who suits up for the Flames Saturday night, the team will have their hands full with a re-grouped, re-energized, and re-focused Blackhawks team. A win means returning home squarely in the drivers seat, a loss means having to regroup yet again in time for Game 6 Monday. The Flames playoff future is squarely in their hands; Saturday night will go a long way towards deciding how long that future lasts.