SUN Hockey Pool

Team avoids playing the 'what-if' game

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:04 AM ET

Looking back, even just a couple of days into their past, is painful.

Packing up their personal belongings less than 48 hours after the 5-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series, the Calgary Flames weren't all that interested in playing the 'coulda, woulda, shoulda' game.

"No, that's painful. It really is," defenceman Adrian Aucoin said Friday.

"Any level of sports, that's one of those sayings that really kicks you in the butt."

Aucoin has had a frustrating few days, knowing how close his Flames came to moving on to the second round.

"You think once it's over, you kind of sit back, relax and sleep, but it hasn't really been that easy," he said. "Just frustrating."

Minds racing to try and determine what went wrong, Aucoin's teammates are probably having trouble relaxing, too.

"I don't know. I wish I had an explanation. Maybe it is consistency," said winger Alex Tanguay. "The team that was the most consistent all year found a way to be more consistent in the playoffs.

"We're still upset. We'd still like to be playing. Especially (Friday night) when we're going to see them jump on the ice, it's going to be a little hard for us. But it's part of the game. They played better than us in Game 7, they won."

Maybe the most haunting to the Flames is the fact they were good enough to beat the Sharks despite their regular-season differences.

Had they played in Game 7 in San Jose the way they played at home in Calgary for Game 6, they'd be enjoying octopus in Detroit right now.

"This team was, player-wise, certainly good enough to play against anybody," said Tanguay. "Given the right breaks, who knows what might have happened. But now we've got to be here in front of you guys trying to make excuses for what didn't come out of it."

A third-straight exit in the Western Conference quarter-final -- leaving the 2004 playoff run as the only visit to the second round in 19 years -- is disappointing, but better than missing the post-season altogether as the Flames had done for seven seasons prior to the last four extended campaigns.

Still, the players know losing means changes.

"You've got to win," said defenceman Robyn Regehr. "You look at hockey, and what happens in Vancouver, it's all about performance."

Missing the playoffs for the second time in three years, the Canucks sent general manager Dave Nonis packing.

Moves won't be that drastic here, but the love affair the fans have had with Darryl Sutter since '04 is waning.

He'll be busy this off-season trying to make solid additions to an impressive core of franchise-type players.

But even those with contracts aren't locks to return.

"It's really hard to speculate on what our team's going to look like next year. You never know what to expect," said Cory Sarich.

"Sometimes, you expect drastic things depending on what happened throughout the season. I know here in Calgary, it's been early exits from the playoffs. Oftentimes, you read about it, you hear about it, so you think there's going to be major changes. Sometimes GMs surprise you -- they don't do a lot.

"I've seen it where they start to make a lot of moves, start to clean house."

Nobody expects that drastic a summer, but it's definitely going to be a long one.


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