Wing-a-ding-dong dandy

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:10 AM ET

DENVER -- The Calgary Flames know what they're up against.

Standing between them and the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is a giant. A team that stands atop the Western Conference and fell a tiebreaker short of the Presidents' Trophy given to the best club in the NHL.

The Flames kick off their best-of-seven quarter-final series Thursday night in Detroit against the Red Wings and it won't be easy to topple the top-seeded Goliath.

"We know our work's cut out for us, playing a great team in Detroit," said Tony Amonte minutes after his Flames fell 6-3 to the Avalanche in their regular-season finale last night. "Best team in the west. It's going to be a challenge."

The veteran knows the Western Conference is strong from top to bottom. He also knows it's quite an accomplishment to reign supreme, which Detroit did with a 113-point campaign.

"It's up to us to go in there and outwork them," Amonte said. "Play our game."

Playing their game means being physical but avoiding unnecessary penalties.

Every Flame in the locker-room already seems to know that and their head coach said the physical game and discipline are an automatic focus in the post-season.

"Those things are just One and One-A in playoff hockey," said Playfair, who was an assistant coach with the Flames when they ousted Detroit from the second round in six games during the 2004 run.

"When you look at the history, we had success in that building a couple of years ago when we played. We understand what kind of team they are and it's just about making sure we're ready to compete really hard for 60 minutes. That's against anybody but you look at Detroit's record, that's the type of team they have.

"We'll be ready for them."

Craig Conroy expects the grinding style they used to beat the Wings in the 2004 playoffs and in the 2-1 win at the Saddledome a few weeks ago to be their key to victory.

As long as they avoid the Wings' deadly powerplay, which has the ability to break games wide open despite ranking No. 21 in the league this season.

"That's where they can excel," said Conroy. "With all that skill ... we want to stay out of the box, play five-on-five and make it an ugly hockey game."

Former Wing Darren McCarty agreed.

"We can't get in a shootout with them," he said. "We've got to make them earn everything they get and capitalize when we get opportunities."

Alex Tanguay hopes the skilled forwards the Flames boast will be able to keep the puck away from the Wings, who thrive on puck possession while keeping the shot count low on goaltender Dominik Hasek.

"They didn't finish first in our conference for no reason. In order for us to be successful we have to be playing with the puck," said Tanguay. "Hopefully we can do that."

The Wings aren't known as a big-bodied team but the addition of Todd Bertuzzi and Kyle Calder before the trade deadline certainly upped their ability to push back.

"They're obviously physical enough to have won the conference," said defenceman Rhett Warrener, who agrees with Tanguay's idea of keeping possession away from the Wings.

"I think our centremen are going to have a challenge winning draws and making sure we've got the puck instead of them controlling the puck."

The underdogs are keeping their goals simple at the moment. That means winning one game early to give them the upper hand heading home.


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