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Speed, skill and all-out firepower take centre stage in Flames-Avs series

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Alternatively, in lieu of the traditional first-game first-period puck-drop, perhaps the eardrum-rattling blast of a 100-metre-heat starter's pistol or an audio clip of the race announcer at The Brickyard in Indy intoning: "Gentlemen, start your engines!"

"A lot of speed. A lot pace," predicts Flames captain Mark Giordano.

"It's gonna be fast.

"We need to to stay above guys, not allow them speed through the middle.

"They're up and down the ice quick and they've got that line" - Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen - "that can really burn you.

"As a group, they battled through some injuries down the stretch and had to work hard, play well, to get in, so they're feeling pretty good about themselves, I'd imagine.

"We feel the same way about our team.

"It's just good to have the regular-season over with, crank it up and take it to that next level."


Video: Giordano, Flames post 5-3 win against Avalanche


So, officially it's the Colorado Avalanche.

Don't allow that 17-point standings gap to mislead. Stubbornly resist the all-too-human temptation to be lulled into any silly false sense of security by a 3-0 seasonal record versus the Avs - a quick check being remindful that those three victories arrived via the whopping total of four goals.

"Those guys,'' praises assistant GM Craig Conroy of coach Jared Bednar's group, "are dangerous.

"They have that special line, one of the best in the league, that's going to be great challenge for us. They all come to work. Their defence, with (Erik) Johnson, (Tyson) Barrie, is solid. And the goalie has been really good.

"It's an evenly-matched series.

"We've got to bring our A Game."



History's first-round burial ground is littered with the well-turned-out corpses of series favourites. Ask anyone with the any degree of tenure in the game, in the league, and they carry faded scars of regret to this day, can trot out any number of Lost In Space "Danger, Will Robinson!" cautionary tales.

"If you're a favourite - quote/unquote - in people's minds, based on records … hey, this is playoff hockey. A completely different animal. An unpredictable animal," cautions Conroy, with a soft head shake. "In St. Louis one year, we won the Presidents' Trophy and then lost to San Jose in the first round.

"There were a lot of flukey goals in that series, they seemed to be going in from everywhere, off everything, but at the end of the day they just flat-out beat us. You've got all these expectations, everybody's telling you you're going to do this and that, and suddenly it's over, just over, and you're like: 'What just happened?!'"

Much responsibility, naturally, will be heaped upon the shoulders of the duelling No. 1 lines. The Avs' top unit combined for 261 points, Calgary's Big Three of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm hit for 259. So there's some serious firepower on display.

The Flames' offensive depth, a hallmark throughout this season of re-energization, could well swing the pendulum their way and if history has taught us anything at this time of year, it's that unlikely heroes emerge to tip scales and turn tides.

But that goes both ways.


Video: CGY@COL: Gaudreau tucks home silky overtime winner


"What's great about our group,'' says Conroy, "is that you can literally feel the excitement. Guys have the belief, that faith that if we play the way we should we're capable of beating anyone. That's what you've gotta have.

"But it won't be easy. You've got to find different ways to win and the first game, actually the first two, here at home are huge.

"The pre-scouts are done. We knew it was down to two possible opponents. I know the coaches are pumped.

"The teams play similar styles. Should be back-and-forth, fast-paced, end-to-end action.

"It's gonna be fun …"

Conroy paused, sighed.


Yes, if.

"They're a good team but we're going to do what we've done all year - focus on ourselves, our group,'' vowed defenceman Travis Hamonic, post-game Saturday. "We've got a talented group up and down the lineup, we've got some stars, some great goaltending, great D, great forwards.

"We're super-excited to get going, get started, get to work.

"But everything's in the past now. It's a fresh sheet of ice for everybody. You've got 16 teams getting in, everyone's got that one goal and truthfully it doesn't matter what you've done throughout the season.

"It's one of those things you pluck away it.

"You grind 82 games all year and we set ourselves to be in the playoffs, be in the dance. We're ready. The fans are ready. The city's ready. You can feel the buzz around the rink, around the city everyone's driving and they've got the flags on their cars.

"That's awesome.

"It's that time of year. The weather's nice. The whole city's behind you,

"I'm smiling just talking about it."

The real high-beams, however, are only illuminated when four wins are safe in storage and you've moved on to the next hurdle.

"We've had a real good season," says Giordano, the undeniable emotional and competitive catalyst. "We feel in here that we're capable of doing something special.

"You don't take this type of opportunity for granted."

This type of opponent, either.

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