FlameS’ raCe For PlayoFFS oVer
Hopes shattered despite 6-1 win over Edmonton
Fairy-tales don’t end this way. Hansel and Gretel aren’t supposed to be charred oven fricassee inside the welcoming confines of the witch’s gingerbread house. Correct any lingering misconception, but Sleeping Beauty awakens after Prince Charming’s true-love kiss, right? She doesn’t just lie there like . . . like . . . a STIFF?!
Must’ve missed the part about the giant landing on top of Jack, crushing him, after the big lug tumbles off the beanstalk and gravitational pull takes over.
Fairy-tales, we’re brought up to believe, always wind up happily-ever-after.
Well, the intoxicating fairy-tale run of the Calgary Flames finally came to an end Wednesday. More grim than Grimm. “It sucks,’’ said defenceman Mark Giordano stoically, “to be out.’’ Succinct. And straight from the heart.
Fourteen weeks after setting sail on an improbable, exhilarating, gripping voyage that saw them rise from the murky depths of the Western Conference compost heap and into the throes of a playoff tussle the likes of which hasn’t been seen in quite a few winters, they simply ran out of time, out of games, out of chances.
It’s only human nature for them to feel a sense of desolation today.
In the final analysis, they were undone by that brutal start, the oceans of flopsweat required to make up acres of ground and burrow back into the race at all and betrayed by a lack of quality depth.
But the fact Iginla and Co. dragged the uncertainty all the way to Game 81 is something of a miracle in itself. This may seem small solace after battling so hard and coming so close only to be denied, but on the final day they at least did not die by their own hand.
“From Christmas on, we played well,’’ sighed Giordano.
“We did a lot of good things,” Giordano continued. “A lot of positive things. Guys stepped up. When you don’t get in you’d like to have a few games, here and there, back.
“That’s what’s tough. We shouldn’t be in this position.’’
Knowing nothing less than victory could keep a perilously thin playoff thread from snapping, the Flames battered resolutely away at Edmonton goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin’s one-man fortress through a 20-shot first period barrage, finally breaching his stronghold at 1:22 of the second on a Rene Bourque wraparound slung into the far corner.
From there, predictably, it was a looting and pillaging spree, as the locals rolled to a 6-1 desecration of a barely recognizable, missing-inaction band of Oilers.
On a day of so many individual keepsake moments, so much abject misery. Jarome Iginla, honoured prior to puck-drop for reaching the magical 1,000-point plateau Friday in St. Louis, scored three times, Nos. 40, 41 and 42 on a grand season, triggering multiple funky Iggy Dance graphic videos on the JumboTron.
In a tomb-like dressing room afterwards, though, the captain certainly didn’t feel like kicking up his heels and breaking into a Footloose routine. Goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff tied Mike Vernon’s franchise watershed for career wins by a goalie, rookie Mikael Backlund enjoyed his most productive night, three assists, as a pro and left winger Alex Tanguay pushed his point total to 68.
“We played well tonight,’’ agreed Giordano. “We didn’t let up at all. We pretty much dominated from start to finish.’’ A helpless shrug of the shoulders. “But . . .” Yes. But, but, but. While the Flames were doing their bit, so, fatally, were Chicago and Anaheim. In the Windy City, Jonathan Toews put the Hawks out of reach of the Flames via a snipe 3:19 into OT against St. Louis in a game marred by a kick-in goal from Marian Hossa.
The Ducks, meanwhile, did their business emphatically on home ice, MVP-candidate Corey Perry’s hat-trick, punctuated by goal No. 50, igniting a 6-2 hammering of the San Jose Sharks.
Which left the Flames, regardless of Wednesday’s outcome, to languish ninth in the West, at best, depending on how the final three games of the hard-charging Dallas Stars play out.
For defenceman Cory Sarich, the finality of Wednesday was bittersweet. There was unmistakable pride in the he and his mates fought back from the abyss. That, however, was muted by the deflation at the two missed chances against Phoenix, lost points in Anaheim and L.A. on that recent U.S. west coast swing.
“It is a little frustrating, not getting it done. We were making such a push there. We were excited, ready to go. Then when we finally put ourselves in position, we didn’t to do enough to make sure we stayed there.
“We played some good games of late, but unfortunately the math was a little too difficult.’’
So with a game to play, Vancouver on Saturday at the Scotiabank Saddledome, the Flames’ off-season officially begins.
“If we started that run a week or 10 daysearlierwe’dbeintheplayoffsright now,’’ muttered Tanguay. “The way we’ve been playing since Christmas we certainly would’ve given ourselves a chance to be one of those teams like Philly last year. Unfortunately, it’s not going to pan out for us. It’s certainly disappointing. It’s tough to believe. It’s tough to accept.
“I don’t know what more there is to say?’’