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Season of promise comes to an end

by Mike Board / Calgary Flames

A season of promise for the Calgary Flames has come to an end. No 'Yeah Baby' on the radio. No big bashes on the Red Mile.

A combination of injuries to key players and a young, determined Chicago Blackhawk team, backstopped by Nikolai Khabibulin and his ongoing hex on the Flames, saw to it that the Flames exited in the first round of the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Calgary's season officially came to an end at 10:02 p.m. MTN daylight time as the Hawks claimed a 4-1 victory and a 4-2 series win,

The Calgary Flames bench in Game 6

It marks the fourth consecutive year that the Flames did not make it past the first round of the playoffs -- a round many experts believe is the toughest to get out of -- but this one stings a little more because the make-up of the team was such that, on paper at least, it appeared they could make a deep run.

The off-season additions of Todd Bertuzzi, Curtis Glencross, Michael Cammalleri and Rene Bourque added a combination of skill and grit. At the trade deadline general manager Darryl Sutter was considered the hands down winner of the day when he scooped Olli Jokinen from Phoenix and added Jordan Leopold to the blueline from Colorado. The team looked a lot like the team from 2004 that went the distance only to fall in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in Tampa Bay. It had skill, size, speed, grit and goaltending.

"I thought we had a lot of hockey to play here still," said Mike Cammalleri.

But stalwart shut-down d-man Robyn Regehr did not play at all in this series because of injury and Dion Phaneuf, the Flames leading point-getter on the blueline (47 in the regular season) did not dress for Game 6 because of an upper body injury. Several other Flames, including Daymond Langkow, Craig Conroy, Cory Sarich and Rene Bourque were all in various states of recovering from injuries. So, it was a battered group of Flames who fell to the Hawks

Sarich was playing with a fractured foot, Langkow had both his hands hurt, Phaneuf suffered broken ribs in Game 5 and Robyn Regehr has a "bad" knee injury, head coach Mike Keenan said following the game.

Not that the Flames were making excuses.

"It's a cliche to say there are never any excuses but there are sometimes reasons," said Keenan. "It's a tight series. Attrition is part of the playoffs but if you take their top two defencemen (Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook) out, it's a different series."

"The guys that played, played great," said captain Jarome Iginla. "It was there for us."

Indeed the Flames, after losing two tight games in Chicago to start the series, battled back to even the best-of-seven at two each before dropping the final two games.

Losing, as everyone knows, is hard to swallow. Predictably, it was a somber Flames dressing room Monday as the season ended.

"Tonight it is disappointment and frustration. The emotions are rolling through you," said center Warren Peters.

It wasn't like they didn't have chances to score and force this to a Game 7 in Chicago. The power play was 0-3 . The Hawks, who scored on the power play in the final five games of the series, including two on Monday, were seven for 21 with the man advantage.

"Our power play could have been better," said Iginla.

The Hawks wasted no time in the power play department on Monday, scoring with Bertuzzi serving an elbowing penalty. Patrick Kane, one of the young scorers on the Hawks, buried a rebound at 2:20 of the first. Later in the period, on a pretty feed from Dustin Byfuglien, Adam Burish made it 2-0. Byfuglien, a big body, was a force most of the game, a player the Flames seemed unable to contain.

Despite outshooting the Hawks 16-7 in the first, the Flames came away with nothing, largely due to the goaltending of Khabibulin, who made key stops when called upon, including stuffing a streaking Jokinen midway through the first period. In the second he again stoned Jokinen, this time from the edge of the crease. It was more of the same in the second as the Flames outshot the Hawks 17-4 and still had nothing to show. The final stats showed the Flames outshooting the Hawks 44-16.

"Goaltending can steal a game and that's what happened tonight," said Keenan.

"You work your hardest. You do your best. We had a lot of good chances. A lot of good shots," said Cammalleri.

Late in the second period Brian Campbell delivered the knockout punch on the power play -- the Flames having been tagged for too many men on the ice. His slapper from just inside the blueline caromed off the stick of defenceman Adam Pardy up over a handcuffed Miikka Kiprusoff.

"They got three goals on 15 shots. It doesn't look good be had no chance on any of them," said Keenan.

The Saddledome, awash in the C of Red, was suddenly very quiet after the third goal, sensing a season of promise had come to an end.

But they were back cheering loud and proud early in the third period when Bertuzzi rifled a wrist shot past Khabibulin to make it 3-1. Was the comeback on? The Flames played with vigor and desperation in the third period. It proved too little, too late. And that season of promise did, indeed, come to an end.

The Flames will take a day to reflect before returning to the 'Dome to clean out their lockers, a day all players dread when it comes this early in spring.

"This is something that leaves a bad taste in your mouth and makes the summer really long," said Eric Nystrom. "It was a great series. Unfortunately we were on the wrong end of it."



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