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Flames itching to drop the puck for Game 1 tonight at the Scotiabank Saddledome

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick /

They say the rush game takes a back seat and 'heavier' hockey takes over in the playoffs.


But if there's one of the NHL's eight first-round quarrels to throw caution to the wind and fly in the face of modern convention, look no further than right here in the mountain time zone.

With two of the most prolific top lines in the game - led by Johnny Gaudreau and Nathan MacKinnon's duelling 99-point campaigns - and the kind of possessed, north-south speed others can only dream of, the Flames and Colorado Avalanche are ready to buck the trend.

This could be as close to firewagon hockey as you'll ever see in the post-season.

"That whole line's had an unbelievable year," said the Flames' Game 1 starter, Mike Smith, of Colorado's vaunted top triad. "It's pretty impressive what they were able to do.

"And they're probably saying the same thing about us and our guys."

MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen combined for a mind-boggling 261 points this year on a top-heavy Avalanche team. The Flames counter with Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm, who had an equally magnificent campaign, but did the bulk of their damage at even strength and are more than willing to go blow-for-blow with the Avs' top unit.

However, Rantanen won't start with his fellow point-per-game comrades - instead making his return from an eight-game absence on a line with veteran Carl Soderberg in an effort to help counter the Flames' depth.

Advantage Calgary?

Or simply a reminder that the game-breakers on either side can make their presence known at any time, without warning.

No matter how they're deployed.




"This past month or so, they've been one of the top teams in the league," Smith said. "Any team you're playing now deserves to be in the playoffs and this team's no different. They've been real hot down the stretch here and those players are top-notch players. It's going to be a quick game and hopefully we can keep them off the scoreboard.

"I've got be ready when they're on the ice. They can change the game, for sure."

But so can the locals.

"Two fast teams," Gaudreau said. "Their first line, they've got some fast, skilled players throughout their lineup and they've had a lot of success in their last 10 games from a lot of guys.

"We've got to be prepared."

It's been a long wait for the Flames, who wrapped up their regular season last Saturday and had three straight days of practice to fine-tune their game earlier this week.

The energy in the rink Thursday was off the charts for the usually stoic, 10:30 skate.


Video: The quest for the Cup begins tonight


More than 19,000 red towels were being draped on the seats as the Flames took to the ice - the players' eyes wandering at the increasingly crimson vista, and the anticipation building for what should be an electric atmosphere in front of the world-famous C of Red.

Even those that have previously lived it could already feel the buzz.

"I'm going to tell some of the guys who haven't been here how exciting it is to jump on the ice here in Calgary," Gaudreau said. "It's just a lot of fun playing in this city and the way they support us is crazy. To be able to be in the playoffs for them, it's pretty cool."


Video: "It's going to be a lot of fun"


When the puck drops shortly after eight, the Flames know the importance of keeping a level head amid the rockin' atmosphere.

It's fun. It's exciting. It's worth every bit of the decades-long slog they've put themselves through to get here.

But they also know they have a job to do, especially in those all-important first 10 minutes.

"You're better off keeping it simple," reasoned head coach Bill Peters. "Get everybody out there, keep it simple, get pucks in behind them and establish a forecheck. That's all I want to do early. Let's get on the body, let's get pucks deep, get everybody into the game and go from there.

"It's been five days, right? It can't get here soon enough."

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