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GAME: Calgary Flames at Detroit Red Wings.

PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference semifinals; Game 1.

TIME: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EDT.

It seems only fair that the Calgary Flames should be rewarded for winning their first playoff series in 15 years.

Facing the top-seeded Detroit Red Wings in the second round isn't what they had in mind.

The postseason road only gets tougher for the upstart Flames when they meet the Red Wings - the NHL's best team during the regular season - in the opener of their Western Conference semifinal series.

They had to put in extra time to do it, but Martin Gelinas' goal 85 seconds into overtime gave the Flames a 3-2 victory in Game 7 at Vancouver on Monday, sending Calgary to the conference semifinals for the first time since it captured the Stanley Cup in 1989.

Calgary's first postseason series victory would not have been possible without a major contribution from captain Jarome Iginla, who had five goals and eight points in the series.

"It's been 15 years since we've had a second round," Iginla said. "Calgary is a great hockey city and I know it's been tough on the fans, and they deserve this."

While eliminating the higher-seeded Canucks can be a considered an upset, Vancouver was without star forward Todd Bertuzzi for the entire series and starting goaltender Dan Cloutier for the final four games.

Beating the talent-laden Red Wings will require an even better performance from the Flames, who figure to be the more fatigued team after playing more than nine periods the past two games. While Calgary concluded a grueling seven-game series Monday, Detroit has been off since eliminating Nashville in six games Saturday.

Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman, however, doesn't believe that will affect the Flames on Thursday.

"You win a first-round series in Game 7 in overtime, that spurs you on," Yzerman said. "It gives them more confidence. They're playing at a higher level now than they were two weeks ago, so the experience will benefit them more than it hurts them."

Calgary was able to contain Vancouver's top line for the most part in the quarterfinals, but Detroit is a far deeper and more versatile team. Because the Red Wings can roll three forward units of All-Star caliber players, Flames coach Darryl Sutter will have a difficult time matching lines in this series.

"Obviously, they are a level unto themselves, they are a great team for good reason," Sutter said. "In the Vancouver series our plan was to control the (Brendan) Morrison line and we did a great job of that. Now we have to do that with four lines."

After it was upset in the first round last season by Anaheim, Detroit was determined not to suffer that embarrassment again. Though the Red Wings could only split the first four games, they won Games 5 and 6 by a combined 6-1 score with Curtis Joseph replacing Manny Legace in net.

"I thought our guys played with substance," Detroit coach Dave Lewis said. "I thought our guys played with character, composure and passion. When you do that, that's a pretty dangerous group. Adversity is a good thing. Adversity makes you stronger."

Without production from Iginla, Calgary will have a hard time winning this series. Detroit, meanwhile, has several players it can look to for offense. Center Robert Lang may have been the Wings' best player against Nashville, contributing two goals and four assists.

Even at full strength Calgary would have a tough time matching up against talent-laden Detroit, but the Flames will begin this series without several key players.

Rugged forward Chris Simon and defensemen Denis Gauthier and Toni Lydman missed Game 7 against Vancouver with injuries. Gauthier is the least likely of the three to play in this series, while Simon and Lydman could be back at some point.

One area where the Flames could have an advantage is in goal, where Miikka Kiprusoff will be matched up against Joseph.

Though Joseph has far more playoff experience than Kiprusoff, the Red Wings' goalie only played Games 5 and 6 against Nashville due to an ankle injury and may not be 100 percent. Kiprusoff stopped 190 of 206 shots against Vancouver following one of the best regular seasons by a goalie in league history.

Joseph recorded a 3-0 victory in his only appearance this season against the Flames, and is 24-8-3 in his career against them.

"It doesn't really mean a lot right now. That's nothing to draw upon, different players, different times," Joseph said.

Playing on the road shouldn't bother the Flames, who were 3-1 on the road in the quarterfinals and 21-16-2-2 away from home in the regular season.

In the only previous playoff meeting between the franchises, the Red Wings eliminated the Atlanta Flames in the first round in 1978.

Game 2 is Saturday at Detroit.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Flames - 6th seed; beat Vancouver Canucks 4-3, quarterfinals. Red Wings - 1st seed; beat Nashville Predators 4-2, quarterfinals.

PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Flames - Iginla, 5 goals and 8 points; Craig Conroy, 5 assists; Ville Nieminen, 12 PIM. Red Wings - Lang and Brett Hull, 2 goals; Lang, 4 assists and 6 points; Brendan Shanahan, 14 PIM.

PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Flames - Power play: 15.0 percent (6 for 40). Penalty killing: 79.5 percent (31 for 39). Red Wings - Power play: 6.9 percent (2 for 29). Penalty killing: 96.6 percent (28 for 29).

GOALTENDERS: Flames - Kiprusoff (4-3, 1 SO, 2.08 GAA); Roman Turek (no appearances). Red Wings - Joseph (2-0, 1, 0.43); Legace (2-2, 2.18).

REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Red Wings, 3-1. Detroit outscored Calgary 7-2 in winning the first three meetings before the Flames recorded a 4-1 victory at Joe Louis Arena on March 16. Kiprusoff went 1-1 with a .938 save percentage in two games, while Joseph stopped 21 shots in a 3-0 victory at Calgary on Nov. 4.

Associated Press
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