Flames won't run for this cover

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

Their playoff beards a mere shadow of those grown two years ago, the Calgary Flames made an early exit in the first round.

An ugly 3-0 loss to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, the Western Conference's sixth seed, in Game 7 on home ice, has left Cup-hungry fans at a loss and looking for somewhere to place the bulk of the blame.

You could blame their lack of scoring.

The Flames netted 16 goals in seven games for an average of 2.29 -- third worst among playoff qualifiers -- and just one in their last two contests.

You could blame their opponents. The Ducks managed to stifle the Flames forecheck and counter at key times in the series.

You could blame their coach, whose system was cracked by a rookie counterpart, and his charges, who failed to adjust when desperate measures were needed.

Or you could do what the eternally optimistic fan will do and blame an outfit that has doomed pre-season Stanley Cup favourites for three straight NHL seasons.

Call it the Sports Illustrated Curse.

The Flames were selected by the magazine as the team to beat this season, just as the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche were respectively chosen in 2003-04 and 2002-03. All three have fallen in the first round, leaving some to wonder whether being touted the top team by SI is a blessing or a bane.

The Dallas Stars and Detroit Red Wings are the only two SI-selected teams to claim the Cup in the past eight seasons, with the Stars also reaching the final once. But half the teams have fallen in their opening series.

Flames players and coaches asked about the endorsement prior to opening day said the expectations placed on them were no big deal. The outside pressures couldn't compare to those the organization placed upon itself.

But after thriving in the underdog role in 2004, taking their unexpected run all the way to Game 7 of the Cup final, the Sports Illustrated nod may have been a case of too much, too soon.

The Flames seemed a much more uptight group all season. And while that translated into a division title during the regular-season, it was the loosey-goosey Ducks that claimed the best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final.

If there's a silver lining to be found, fans, it's Sports Illustrated will surely name a new No. 1 before the next campaign.


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