CALGARY - The car flags can be seen flapping on every main road, fans in Flames jerseys are on every corner, and it seems the fans are just as fired up as the players going into Sunday's third game between Calgary and San Jose Sharks.
"I can't wait. The city, everywhere we've gone, they're pretty excited," said Calgary centre Craig Conroy on Saturday afternoon after practice. "People can't wait to get this going and I'm looking forward to seeing what the crowd's going to be like."
Having ended the regular season with a four-game road trip, when Calgary takes to the ice Sunday night in front of a screaming sea-of-red crowd of 19,289, it will be the first time playing at the Pengrowth Saddledome in over two weeks.
Calgary will be looking to take the lead in the Western Conference opening-round series that is tied at one game each.
"When we walk onto that ice, it's going to be loud and lively. It's a motivation," Conroy said. "But we've talked about just going out there and playing with composure.
"It's tied 1-1, we're at home, let's do the things that got us here and don't get too carried away or too excited because it can backfire on you if you come out and you're so excited and so revved up that it's a little bit of a let down when the game gets going."
A key for the Flames is not getting too fired up and giving Sunday's referee combination of Dan O'Halloran and Eric Furlatt the same whistle-blowing opportunity that Tim Peel and Marc Joannette had Thursday night when they assessed Calgary 12 minor penalties including six penalties in a row in a nine-minute stretch in the second period. The seemingly never-ending San Jose Sharks power play eventually netted them a key goal that put the game away.
"We have an emotional and physical team, and we can ride that (crowd noise)," said Flames captain Jarome Iginla. "We obviously have to be disciplined and stay out of the box but as far as being physical and skating, it's great to have the crowd behind you."
After leading the league with 30 home wins two years ago, Calgary's home record fell to 21-11-9 this season. However, the Flames lost just once in regulation in their last 10 (7-1-2).
Home ice was kind to them last year in the playoffs too when as the number eight seed, the Flames returned home for games three and four and beat Detroit twice to even the series. The series did end on home ice in game six but not before forcing the Red Wings to double overtime.
"They still have a lot of pressure on them, they're supposed to win this series and from what people were saying beforehand, pretty easily," Conroy said. "Now we're home and we feel like we've played much better at home the second half of the year."
One of the reasons Calgary is tied in the series has been the stellar play of third-year defenceman Dion Phaneuf.
Phaneuf's first two Aprils in the NHL were very much forgettable. He was a team-worse minus-8 as a rookie in 2005-06 when Calgary was upset in round one by Anaheim. Last year, Phaneuf was tied for last on the team at minus-4.
"He's contributed much like we expect him too," said Flames coach Mike Keenan. "He's played physically, he's carried a big work load in terms of ice time, he's initiated a lot of contact, he's carried the play offensively and he's scored."
Much of that has come while matched up against San Jose captain Joe Thornton and linemates Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek.
"I actually found it quite a bit of fun watching them play against each other," Keenan said. "He's ready for that now, he's ready for anyone in the league."
Iginla says Phaneuf's play has simply carried over from his standout regular season. "Playoffs are built for him," said Iginla. "He's such a competitive guy, he loves to battle. The intensity, the second and third efforts, the competing that goes on, that's totally his style and you can see that he loves it. He's played great in the two games."