Experience preferred

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:12 PM ET

Turns out the Calgary Flames and the Calgary Stampeders have more in common than we thought.

Having reversed their fortunes after years of futility, both squads have rebounded from shaky starts to piece together lengthy winning streaks of late.

Both are suddenly championship contenders, both have made a recent habit out of dominating their Edmonton counterparts and have thus become the toast of the town.

But on the eve of the Stampeders' first playoff game in four years, we learn Tom Higgins has torn a page out of Darryl Sutter's coaching manual concerning playoff preparation.

In an effort to make up for the same lack of playoff experience the Flames dealt with before their 2004 run, Higgins did his best to create a playoff environment around each of the Stamps' last five games leading up to tomorrow's CFL West Division semifinal.

Much like Sutter did when he effectively raised the intensity of his playoff greenhorns by breaking down the final 28 regular season games into four seven-game playoff series to simulate a Cup run, Higgins has worked hard to give playoff-like experience to a team sorely lacking in that department.

Burris said that should pay off tomorrow.

"Playoff experience is big but I wouldn't put too much emphasis on it because we've been in playoff mode for the last five games," said Burris, aware the veteran-laden Eskimos have plenty of playoff reps.

"We've taken the approach to each game that we can't shoot ourselves in the foot because if we lose this game, the season is over. Our Number 1 goal was to have a home-field playoff game and we needed to win the last four games to do that."

Having missed the playoffs the last three years, the Stamps roster is filled with players who've never played a down of do-or-die ball. All told, the Stamps have 65 playoff games under their belt. Meanwhile, the Eskimos, who've made the playoffs every year since hockey's Summit Series, have 53 Grey Cup appearances alone, in addition to 162 playoff showings.

But Higgins said that's overrated, suggesting a lack of experience can be a blessing as it was for the Flames.

"We're going to have a whole bunch of playoff experience once the game is over," he said.

"The players feel like they have playoff experience because we've told them the last little bit of a run here that we're treating it like the playoffs because we need to. If that last game of the regular season isn't playoff-calibre, then

I don't know what would be. That's as an important a game as can be."

And the Stamps responded in near flawless fashion, crafting a 43-23 win sure to have the Eskimos making all sorts of adjustments for tomorrow's rematch.

Linebacker Scott Coe -- who dyed his hair pink, er, reddish, for his first pro playoff tilt -- concedes Edmonton has edge in post-season experience.

"But when it comes down to it," he said, "you just have to execute the X's and O's.

"There's a lot more hype about it than there should be. Maybe it's my ignorance for never being in a playoff game but I'm going to approach it by doing the same things I do before every game."

Winners of seven of their last eight, the Stamps would be wise to stick with that plan.

Said former Eskimos Rahim Abdullah: "It's not like I'm going to play any harder this week than I did last week or that they're going to play harder because they've played more playoff games."

Playoff rookie Alex Gauthier agrees.

"We've all played football long enough to focus and I don't need people to tell me it's a big game," he said.

"We have lots of motivation."

They also have a template that served the Flames well under similar circumstances.


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