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SPEED KILLS

Peters expects Czarnik's quickness and skill will help Flames on both sides of centre in Game 5

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

Austin Czarnik was an early adopter of the playoff spirit in our city. 

Just days after clinching the Pacific Division title, he and his fiancée Rachael were out for a rip down 17th, pointing out the car flags and the many establishments donning the Flames' iconic red colours in the windows, promising the party of the spring in this hockey-mad market. 

Tonight, in a do-or-die Game 5 at the Scotiabank Saddledome, he'll finally get his chance to be part of the festivities, first-hand. 

"It's exciting," the breathless winger said following the Flames' morning skate. "To me, it's just another game. It's a bigger game, on a bigger stage, but you have to be able to handle that.

"It'd be easy to get caught up in the atmosphere and have those 'wow' moments, but you have to have to be ready and remember that it's still the same game I've playing my whole life.

"And most importantly, we have to job to do."

Czarnik will draw in on a line with Mark Jankowski and Michael Frolik, with veteran James Neal subbing out on the wing. 

Czarnik, who last played in the Flames' regular-season finale, had 18 points (6G, 12A) in 54 games, and finished the year with four points in his last five contests.

With the Flames looking to stay alive and push this Western Conference First Round series back to the Mile High City, Czarnik brings an element the Flames desperately need to counter-act Nathan MacKinnon and the Avalanche's quick-strike offence. 

"When Z's come into the lineup, he's given us an element of skill in the offensive zone," said head coach Bill Peters, who praised No. 27's grit and, most crucially, his deadly straightaway speed. "We want to hang on to pucks and spend some time down there."

 

Video: "It's exciting to get into the lineup"

 

Czarnik, who has 24 pro playoff games under his belt - all with the AHL's Providence Bruins - has had a unique perspective of the series to this point. 

While no player would ever suggest the press-box vantage point is in any way superior, having seen this Flames-Avs matchup for four straight nights now, he feels he has a pretty good handle on what needs to improve for the locals. 

"You take a lot from watching up top in a playoff series," said Czarnik, who learned just earlier this morning that he would be making his playoff debut. "You see how effective they've been using their speed and getting pucks on net. That's been their main focus all series and when you're able to do they've been able to (in the offensive zone), it wears teams down. 

"We need some more zone time. Simple as that.

"We've had a couple times where we had some good success down there, but we can have more. If we do that, we're going to wear them down, their D are going to get tired and they're going to start making some sloppy plays and we'll capitalize on them.

"We're a team that can thrive on transition. ... Get pucks in, try not to get too fancy and get shots on net. That's where we're going to have success.

"For me? Use my speed. That's my biggest asset and that's where I know I can make a difference."

 

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While the Flames are facing an uphill climb as they trail this best-of-seven series 3-1, there's no shortage of confidence in the locker-room. 

Eight times this year the Flames rattled off a winning streak of three games or more. 

Make it nine and they're off to Round 2. 

The players, though, have only one game in their sights, for now. Win a shift. Win a period. Take every cliché from the tattered sporting lexicon, apply it to tonight, and go from there. 

"We've been doing it all year," Czarnik said. "This team's been through a lot together and we've accomplished a lot. 

"But the job's not done here tonight.

"It starts with that first shift, having a good, hard first shift, getting pucks in and going to work.

"We know what type of team we are, so we feel like we can bounce back."

 

Video: "We think it's the right move to make at this time"

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