Three years ago, when the Calgary Flames knocked off Detroit, it was a classic case of will over skill.
Undaunted by the Red Wings' talent and top billing in the league, a Flames club in the midst of being re-built by Darryl Sutter out-hit, out-worked and out-skated a team with twice Calgary's payroll.
Calgary's main weapon that spring was grit -- an ingredient they no longer solely rely on to win.
Now and then they seem to fancy themselves a skilled bunch, capable of running with the big boys.
On that front they've proven to be sadly mistaken of late, which is why few give the Flames much hope of beating a gifted Wings squad that has added moxie.
Work ethic is just one of the six keys to the series:
THE BRAWN BATTLE
The arrival of Kyle Calder and Todd Bertuzzi adds muscle and meanness to a Detroit club long devoid of such character. Combined with the feistiness of Kirk Maltby, Kris Draper and Tomas Holmstrom, the Wings are no longer a team afraid to get dirty like the Flames used to. Unless the work ethic Sutter instilled returns, the Flames could find themselves losing the bulk of the board wars.
THE DATSYUK DAIRIES
Robyn Regehr is just one of the defencemen who has held Wings star Pavel Datsyuk in check throughout his playoff career. In his last 21 post-season games the $46.9-million man has yet to score a single goal, mirroring the springtime slump the franchise has been in since it won the Cup in 2002. With points in all but four of the club's final 32 games, it's hard to believe a battered Regehr can extend Datsyuk's string of playoff futility.
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
The only team to have more home wins than the Wings this year was Calgary, which is why the Flames made the playoffs. Both teams won each of their two home games during the season series. To move on, the Flames will have to steal at least one at The Joe as they did in 2004 where they won Games 1 and 5. Problem is, Calgary has the worst road record of any playoff team.
It's been an off year by Miikka Kiprusoff's lofty standards but he still finished amongst league leaders in most goalie categories. Same can be said of 42-year-old Dominik Hasek, whose stellar team defence made up for his declining save percentage. However, an example of just how easily rattled Hasek can be was seen in Calgary last month when he tried to draw a penalty with a laughable dive on the winning goal that cost his club the Presidents' Trophy. Like Curtis Joseph in 2004, he can be beaten.
OLD SAINT NICKLAS
Destined for another Norris Trophy, Nicklas Lidstrom spearheads a powerplay that worked well against Calgary this year. Defensively, he and Mathieu Schneider will be called upon to shut down a well-balanced Calgary offence that scored two more goals than Detroit.
Kiprusoff stole Game 1 in 2004, prompting a wide-eyed Craig Conroy to say, "This ... gives up hope." As the eighth-ranked club and losers of their last four games, a rough start by the fragile Flames could shatter any hopes of another upset. Early stumbles by Detroit could also weigh heavily as the team looks to end three seasons of embarrassingly early exits.