Edmonton Journal

Flames focused as they head to Anaheim


CALGARY — The between-series lull reached its end Wednesday. And thank goodness for that.

Questions — and responses — had been growing awfully threadbare around the Saddledome corridors.

Heck, the mere sight of Oleg Saprykin near the dressingro­om door caused reporters to fairly sprint over to the former member of the Calgary Flames — just for a fresh take on … well, anything. But the waiting is over. The Flames — after practice and before the afternoon’s departure for Anaheim — offered the last of their answers.

And some of their shortest ones, too.

Coach Bob Hartley was asked how his players intended to avoid the bruisingly bad intentions of the Ducks. Simple. “Skate around them.” The recipe for series success, too, was boiled down to its most basic form.

“Pretty easy math,” said Hartley, whose gang opens its matchup Thursday at the Honda Center. “You don’t need a Harvard degree to figure out our situation. We need to go get one in Anaheim and win three at home.”

Noteworthy was the team-practice absence of Michael Ferland, David Jones, David Schlemko.

“They skated (earlier in the) morning,” said Hartley. “We have so many guys that we split the group in two.”

The coach punctuated that last comment with a comically large wink, because everyone knows those three players are nicked up to some extent. But? “They will all be in the lineup,” said Hartley, with a somewhat straighter face.

Because, yes, the impending stare-down with the Ducks is a sobering thought.

Anaheim is the top bunch in the Western Conference. Its first-round series against the highly-regarded Winnipeg Jets ended in a sweep.

So stacked are the Quackers that it is difficult to single out a strength.

“I don’t think you can put a finger on one thing,” said Dennis Wideman. “They’re just a solid, deep team with lots of skill, lots of size …”

Collectors of 51 wins and 109 points during the regular season, the Ducks own advantages all over the ice. In the middle, the 1-2 punch of Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler is hard to knock.

“Getzlaf, very good offensivel­y with his crew,” said Hartley. “Kesler, he’s a big centre they use to play against the other team’s top line

But Hartley pointed out the 3-4 continuati­on of their power at pivot, with Rickard Rakell and Nate Thompson.

“The biggest challenge ... they have four lines, (each) with a different game,” said the coach. “They will come at you in a different way. They each have an identity, but they still play a great team game.”

Anaheim’s back-end, too, is considerab­le. How good is it? “When you have a defenceman like (James) Wisniewski that you can’t get in the lineup — talk about depth,” said Hartley. “Their six defencemen, they jump in the attack. They’re very dangerous. They’re big and they’re fast. And they can defend very well.”

The Canucks, too, had possessed advantages — Sedin & Sedin, experience, home ice — but still the Flames prevailed.

Back-patting, however, is over.

“We start fresh again,” said Matt Stajan. “We know what’s at stake. We’re one step closer to everybody’s goal. Nothing’s going to surprise me. Nothing’s going to surprise anybody. We’ll throw everything out there. We’ll see what happens.”

And Hartley, despite glowing notices about the heavily favoured opposition, adores his own group. He announced that not once has a player been late for a meeting this season.

As members of the NHL’s final eight, the Flames are being taken seriously — more or less — by the hockey world. But they are no one’s favourite for the rest of the spring. Bodog.ca has installed the Flames as 2-1 underdogs in the series. The Ducks rates 5-12 odds. “I mean, there’s some challenges, but we’re excited for it,” said Kris Russell.

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