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Flames need a complete effort

by Todd Kimberley
It's not exactly a buyer's market out there for excuses in Flames Nation.

And the Calgary Flames know they’ve got to get back to the old A-B-C sales pitch in playoff hockey: Always Be Closing.

The Flames were supposed to be the battle-tested unit in this first-round National Hockey League playoff meeting with the young, dynamic, innocent Chicago Blackhawks.

Yet it's Iron Mike Keenan’s crew that has seemingly lost its composure in this Western Conference Quarterfinal, blowing an important lead in each of the series’ first two clashes at Chicago’s United Center — and, as a result, trails the best-of-seven affair two games to none.

Game 3 is Monday night (9:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN) at Calgary’s Pengrowth Saddledome.

"Some of it is composure," allowed Flames captain Jarome Iginla on Sunday afternoon, after the club held a team meeting at its Saddledome headquarters.

"We’ve carried a lot of the play in the first period … the first half of the game. When they started getting some momentum back their way, we haven’t responded well enough."

The Flames had taken a 2-1 lead four minutes into the third period of Game 1, thanks to Michael Cammalleri’s first career NHL playoff goal, but the ’Hawks’ Martin Havlat tied the game with five minutes left in regulation and then capped the league’s third-shortest overtime playoff game after just 12 seconds.

The visitors quieted the United Center crowd again Saturday night, with two goals in the first 16 minutes for a quick 2-0 lead, but Jonathan Toews and Co. roared back with three second-period goals and a 3-2 victory in Game 2.

"We just have to limit our turnovers,” said rugged Calgary defenseman Cory Sarich, who returned to action Saturday for the first time since blocking a shot with his right instep on March 30. “We do a good job of it for half the game, and then it bites us."

The Flames have now dropped six straight games this season to the ’Hawks.

While there were encouraging signs to open this playoff series, the Flames will have to start closing the deal or face their fourth consecutive first-round exit since advancing to the Stanley Cup Final in 2004.

"I think it’s about getting that first one," Iginla said. “Looking back at these six games, there are ones we felt like we should have had.

"There's no question that the time is now. Once we get (a win), it's going to be a huge momentum shift."

Traditionally, teams that go up by two games in NHL playoff series win nearly 90 per cent of the time. The Flames, meanwhile, have never won a series after dropping the first two games.

Not that those stats mean much to Cammalleri, who has notched two points in Calgary’s first two games against Chicago.

"There’s still a high level of confidence in this room," he said," and we're still going to win this series."

Sarich’s much-anticipated return Saturday was a mere seven-minute appearance, which hardly proved encouraging.

"Mentally, I was a little rusty on a few things in the first (period), but I was trying to keep it as simple as possible," said Sarich, a Stanley Cup winner in 2004 with Tampa Bay.

"I didn't play a lot in the second, but that was my call … just letting the coaches know how I felt," he added.  "My biggest word right now is ‘frustrated."

"There’s no question that the time is now. Once we get (a win), it’s going to be a huge momentum shift." -- Jarome Iginla
On the blue line, the Flames are still without bulwark Robyn Regehr, who hurt his knee April 2 in Dallas, and smooth-skating, puck-carrying Mark Giordano, done for the season after shoulder surgery.

"It doesn’t matter who’s in the lineup, who’s getting the minutes, whatever," said Flames defenseman Jordan Leopold.  "Whoever it is has to go out and perform."

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