Tonight, the first top-seeded team hits the ice when the No. 1 seed Detroit Red Wings host the No. 8 seed Calgary Flames at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit at 7 p.m. on VERSUS.
While owning the top seed in the Western Conference is a familiar scenario for the Detroit Red Wings, it’s not a position that’s been very lucky for them the last few years. In fact, the Red Wings have found getting out of the first round of the playoffs to be an incredible challenge the last few years, no matter how high in the standings they’ve finished or how low their opponents have finished.
Last season was the most recent example of a disappointing Detroit exit when, as the No. 1 seed in the West, the Red Wings fell to No. 8 Edmonton in six games in the opening round. In 2003, the Red Wings also were erased in the Western Quarterfinals by another eventual Cup runner-up when they were bounced out of the first round by Anaheim in four-straight games. In 2004, the Wings won their fourth Presidents’ Trophy, but they were taken out by the Calgary Flames, also a Cup Finalist.
The Wings won it all in 2002, but in 2001 they also didn’t get out of the first round when the Los Angeles Kings eliminated them in six games.
With their dynasty years in the rearview mirror, the Red Wings are trying to rekindle some of the playoff magic of the past and is hoping to win again with the group of veterans that’s been intact since the 1996 championship. The vets aren’t getting any younger and this may be their last chance at hoisting the Cup again, with the same group.
Standing in the way again this spring are the Flames, a team looking to add to the line of early knockouts suffered by Detroit in recent years. With a hard-hitting defense and stingy goaltending, the Flames might be able to continue Detroit’s disappointing trend. The Flames were the only team in the West to make the playoffs while earning less then 100 points.
The Flames are led by RW Jarome Iginla, who has proved to be one of the best goal scorers out west and can also provide a physical presence necessary in the playoffs. Iginla had 94 points this season (39-55-94) and has shown flashes of dominance in the playoffs with 18 goals and 12 assists over his last two postseasons.
The goaltending in this series will likely be the difference. Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff has been fantastic in his playoff career with a 1.93 GAA in 37 playoff games. His play against the proven veteran goal scorers of Detroit will be the key in this series. Kiprusoff backstopped Calgary in their 2004 upset and is on familiar ground this season. In that year, one game kept the Flames and Kiprusoff from raising Lord Stanley’s Cup, losing in Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. They were also bounced in seven games last year in the first round of the playoffs, and this match up has all the ingredients to go the distance as well.
For Detroit, goaltender Dominik Hasek is one of the veterans who is running out of time to win another Cup. Hasek, now 42 years old, has a 2.03 GAA in 97 career playoff games, but he hasn’t seen the playoffs since the 2001-02 season. If the “Dominator” is able to play like he did five years ago, when he had six shutouts and won the Cup with the Wings in 2002, then Detroit should be able to handle the Flames offense and avoid an early exit.NHL.com
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