Foil sports fail to add punch

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

Playoff intensity returned to the 'Dome last night.

Playoff fever to follow.

The unsolicited chanting between whistles, the standing ovations, the roar that follows every hit -- it all came flooding back to the Sea of Red late in the evening, as the Flames proved they do, in fact, have a considerable amount of fight left in 'em.

Troubling, however, is the fact their stirring climb back from a 2-0 deficit grew from another pop-gun start torn from the script of Slap Shot.

Perhaps in honour of the fact it was 31 years ago yesterday Paul Newman's cult hockey flick hit theatres like a Dave Schultz sucker punch, Mike Keenan decided to scratch the Flames' answer to nice guy Ned Braden -- Kristian Huselius. Instead, he opened the evening by telling Jim Vandermeer to foil up.

In what was clearly another desperate attempt to kickstart a club that often opens with as much jump and discipline as Homer Simpson, he lined the blueliner up on the left wing, opposite Taylor Pyatt.

Five seconds in, the manufactured mayhem began.

A minute later, with Vandermeer proving nothing by getting the better of an inexperienced dance partner, the Flames responded with, well, yet another dud.

By period's end, the Flames had been out-shot 21-7, outscored 2-0 and outclassed by a team that shrugged off the hosts' attempts to bully themselves back into it.

Almost midway through the frame, Miikka Kiprusoff finally succumbed to relentless pressure by allowing two goals in a 12-second span.

Surprise, surprise, Keenan responded by putting out Eric Godard against ex-Flames tough-guy Jeff Cowan for more fireworks. However, their obvious intentions led to them being escorted directly to the penalty box before the puck was dropped.

As the Canucks continued to pick apart the Flames, folks likely started wondering if ol' Captain Hook would either lift Kiprusoff from the wreckage or wave him down to fight Roberto Luongo.

In other words, outside of impersonating Patrick Roy or the Anaheim Ducks, it appeared the Flames felt the only answer was to try inciting more violence.

Good thing he kept Kipper in, as he was useful in the Flames' brilliant turnaround. Fast-forward to the second period, where all that garbage was dropped and the Flames decided to play hockey.

And play it well, they did. In the midst of outshooting the Canucks 18-3, the Flames drew within one, setting up an exciting finish that saw both teams ... um ... play hockey for a change.

And in a 41-second span, goals by Daymond Langkow and Dion Phaneuf damn near blew the roof off the 'Dome --a feat that would have been complete had Jarome Iginla scored his second of the night to reach 50.

The question in all of this is whether the Flames will ever consistently find a way to start the evening at first puck drop.

While it's nice to know the club can muck it up with the best of 'em (Vandermeer's major was the club's 68th, tying the Flames with the Ducks for the league lead), it has come across as so silly and contrived of late.

It doesn't even fool the players any more.

It's hard to fault Keenan for trying everything he can to grab the attention of his troops. Make no mistake, the fans sure enjoy it.

However, come playoff time (and after last night's win, you can finally exhale and believe there will be playoffs) the players need to rely on something else to jump-start them: Their heart.

Whatever was said, discussed or thrown during that first intermission had better be repeated early and often as the Flames gear up for April.

Because premeditated fighting is no longer the answer to awaking these giants.


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