SUN Hockey Pool

Flames knuckling down

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

The fighting Flames are back.

No, they aren't anything like Philadelphia's Broad Street Bullies or Boston's Big Bad Bruins -- not even akin to the fisticuffs we saw during the Battle of Alberta's heyday -- but the Flames are sending a message to the rest of the Northwest Division.

Actually, you could say to the whole NHL.

The Flames have recorded at least one fight in seven of their last eight games, and in each of those contests, a dust-up came in the first period.

Twice, the first Donnybrook came within nine seconds of the opening puck drop.

Head coach Mike Keenan, however, won't buy into the accusations his team has become a squad of bullies.

"It's part of the Western Conference right now, not just ourselves," Keenan said. "I guess the table was set by Anaheim. A year ago, they won the Cup. Some people frown on their aggression or the fact, through (GM) Brian Burke, they came out and said 'This is how we're gonna play regardless of the rules and we'll deal with the implications and the penalties that come along with it, but we are gonna win the Stanley Cup playing like this.'

"I can recall Brian saying that and being a little bit surprised, but they followed through from start to finish with the same mantra.

"The table's been set by Anaheim and you have to deal with it one way or another."

Apparently, the solution is to fight fire with fire. Make that fists with fists.

Calgary is tied with the Ducks for most fighting majors this season with 68, and has played one fewer game.

The early skirmishes both came with defenceman Jim Vandermeer lining up as a forward and dropping the mitts, which could be considered somewhat premeditated.

"It's been as a result of the teams coming in here starting heavy lineups," Keenan said. "Normally, I'd start, and have started, more skill players. I don't know if it's the preparation or the game plan -- for example, Colorado came in here and started a very heavy lineup, yet at home they didn't. It depends on who we see and how it unfolds.

"Sometimes it's dictated by the opponent, moreso than perhaps an issue you might be addressing."

Calgary's record is 4-3-0 in the recent stretch of games with a first-period fight, so it's not like the Flames are racking up the victories.

To a man, though, the players insist those scraps ignite them, even in a case such as their last outing against the Canucks, when they were outplayed by a wide margin in the first period and needed a furious comeback to earn a 3-2 victory.

"Yeah, but look at the outcome of the game," said Flames defenceman Robyn Regehr.

"I think you have to look at it as setting the tone for the game, the physical play, letting the other team know you're ready to go and you're going to be in their face battling. Guys who do that show all those things."

Jarome Iginla said the tilts have as much to do with sending a message to their own team as the opposition.

"We have to be in your face. We're not going out thinking we have to go out and fight here and there, but it's part of what's on the line and being competitive," he insisted.

"We want to be a hard team to play against. Look at our defence -- we've got Reggie (Robyn Regehr), a huge hitter and physical, (Cory) Sarich, Dion (Phaneuf) is trying to run every guy he can, and that's a big part of our team. You see a guy do it, you want to follow up.

"We want to be as hard on teams as we can, and stick with it the whole game, and maybe as the game goes on we can get results from it."

It sure harkens back to the 2003-04 season, when the club was becoming notorious for their melees, with enforcer Krzysztof Oliwa often doing the honours. The Flames had great success in those nasty games.

"We're different teams, but we all see the same things out there," Regehr said.

"We're teammates and stick up for one another. When you see a guy make a great play on the ice, see a guy drop the gloves and battle, it gets you excited, gets you going."


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