SUN Hockey Pool

Sea of Red buoyed by split

STEVE MACFARLANE

, Last Updated: 6:51 AM ET

It's not just the fresh heaps of snow that made this city so different from the one the Calgary Flames left earlier this week.

Heavy flakes of white covered the ground, but things also started to bloom.

Popping up everywhere were car flags, many flapping for the first time since being stored away early last spring.

Real belief has blossomed, too, thanks to the way the Men in Red performed on the road.

When the Flames left, it was a town unconvinced of its team's potential. Showing glimpses of the kind of hockey it takes to win 16 games in the playoffs, those kind of performances were few and far between. All that went out the window when the buzzer sounded to end Game 1.

Guaranteeing themselves at least split at the Shark Tank with that 3-2 win, the Flames also locked up the non-believers in town: The guys wearing their red jerseys but convinced they would be retiring them for the summer before next weekend, and the people who didn't bother to look for those car flags in the attic figuring the effort to attach them to the door wouldn't be worth it.

"Hopefully this is not an easy building to play, for other teams to come in," said Miikka Kiprusoff. "We know we're going to be pumped up and go hard from the start.

"It's nice to be back home and I can't wait to play the next game."

There are those who will tell you they were convinced the Flames were going to upset the Sharks before the first puck was dropped.

But until Stephane Yelle's second tally in Game 1, there was still a nagging voice of skepticism in the back of their heads. Gone now, that voice has been replaced by one saying this series is going to go in the Flames' favour.

Feeling ripped off by the refs during a 2-0 shutout in Game 2 and seeing another stellar outing by goalie Kiprusoff will only fuel the idea that, all things being equal, Calgary can prevail.

The roars you'll hear at the Saddledome tomorrow for Game 3 will be deafening.

Louder than the ones let out last year when embarrassing outings in Detroit sapped the local spirit early with a Motor City sweep.

"I knew they'd be excited anyway," said Tanguay, recalling the reaction they received a year ago despite dropping the first two games. "Last year we came back 0-2 against Detroit and the fans were great. Very excited."

Backed by more belief this time, the roof will vibrate nearly as rapidly as it did in 2004, because the hopes are gaining steam. Even the broadcasters and writers who picked the Sharks to win quickly are now looking for a long series.

Those who figured it would be a lengthy battle might choose to switch their predicted winner if given a chance. No one, though, has been as affected as the fans. The players are excitedly anticipating the response.

"It gives you a little energy. The playoffs, there's such a fine line between winning and losing, you try to feed off every bit of energy you can find," said Tanguay. "The fans here in Calgary have been great over the years. I remember watching the playoff run when they went to the finals, and seeing what happened last year, they're definitely giving us a big boost.

"As a team, that's what we're expecting out of them. We want them to give us all the energy they can give us (tomorrow) and we'll try our hardest to make them happy."


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