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Flames struggles in Anaheim don't matter come playoff time

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Watching EPSN's 30 For 30 documentary series in a SoCal hotel room during the Flames' final regular-season road swing, Craig Conroy happened on an instalment that particularly caught his eye.

"The show was on the Detroit Pistons, the second year they won the NBA Finals,'' recalls the team's assistant GM.

"For 15 years they hadn't beaten Seattle in Seattle. And this was what everyone was talking about. Those 15 years. When they asked (Pistons' centre) Bill Laimbeer about it, he said: 'I don't care. That doesn't mean anything to me. The series is 1-1 and we're going into Seattle.

"'So I don't care.'

"They went in there, into Seattle, won three straight and the championship.

"That's got our attitude going into Anaheim with what's happened there in the past:

"I don't care."

About the number of years since the last W earned near Walt's theme-park wonderland. About the amount of games that stretch encompasses or what labels anyone on the outside may be slapping on them.

"I don't think about it,'' parried coach Glen Gulutzan. "I don't even know what (the streak) is.

"My history, I've won in the building. We're a different team than those teams were. Every year teams have different dynamics.

"We were focused on getting into the playoffs. We didn't care who we played. These guys are a top team. But you can't pick and choose your way. If you want something you can't design the easiest way to get there, you've got to go through things.

"We've talked about that all year. So I'm not worried about the building or the history. I'm worried about our team and how we're going to play.

"We're a confident group. We're a healthy group. We're not a tired group. We've got lots of juice. We've managed our rest well this year.

"And we're excited to get going."

Given up for dead when listing five games under break-even and languishing near the bottom of the NHL pack back in mid-November, the stubborn resilience Gulutzan's gang has shown in resurrecting its season has, in the their minds, prepared them for whatever lies ahead.

Series are more a war of attrition than anything else, an accumulation of highs and lows. 

"Certainly we're the underdog,'' conceded the coach. "No question. But if you look at how we've played the last 50 games, we've certainly made a big improvement. From Nov. 15th to now, I think our record's the fifth best in the National Hockey League.

"We're confident group.

"We're certainly the underdog but that's not a bad spot to be in. We've got some things to prove, some seeds to plant and we're going to be prepared."

In truth, the role of 'underdog' is a relative term. Illustrating how tight things have been, at the finish line only two wins separated the four top finishers in the Pacific. Two. Over six months and 82 games apiece.

That's not just tight. That's downright claustrophobic.

Video: "This is what you play for..."

"In the West, maybe Chicago pulled away a little at the end but in our division,'' reckons captain Mark Giordano, "it was pretty tight.

"That's why it's such battle to get in. The games are close, it's tough to make up ground or put any distance between you and the pack.

"Once you get in, really, everyone has a shot at taking it."

No one down at the 'Dome is underestimating the obstacle. These Ducks certainly do present a formidable challenge. Big, strong, aggressive and experienced at key positions, their 23 losses were tied for fewest in the conference. 

They won the season series and have that long Arrowhead Pond/Honda Center head-to-head dominance to draw on.

"We believe in ourselves,'' said centre Matt Stajan. "We believe we can have success here and achieve what we really want to achieve."

So while the Flames remain respectful, they're feeling anything but subservient.

"The first round of the playoffs,'' reminded goaltender Brian Elliott, "is usually the most exciting because you really never know what's going to happen.

"Everybody's fresh and ready for that first battle. It'll be fun."

Video: Elliott talks about embracing the extra hype



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