SUN Hockey Pool

Motown message loud and clear in NHL

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:36 AM ET

It was as entertaining as it was monumental.

As shocking as it was historic.

Let it be said, the Motown Message has been delivered.

Eight days after Darryl Sutter made the NHL's biggest splash on trade deadline day, his players responded in kind with a dramatic statement heard league-wide: Calgary is now officially amongst the NHL's elite.

Outside of the late-season win in 2004 that clinched Calgary's first playoff berth in eight years, Thursday's 6-5 shootout triumph at The Joe was as big a regular-season victory as this club's had in decades.

Not because it opened a nine-point lead on Vancouver or because it narrowed the gap on their first-place hosts, but because they needed to prove they could do it.

Having dismantled the San Jose Sharks twice already this season and fared well against every other team in the league, there was only one demon left to exorcise as the club prepared for the post-season: Detroit.

Not only did they do just that in a rink in which they hadn't won since 2005, but they did it by clawing back against the greatest of odds versus the NHL's somehow-improved defending champs.

Indeed, it was how they did it that has the hockey world talking.

Thanks to 27 minutes in penalties in an opening frame that saw four Calgary blueliners cramped into the bin -- and a penalized Vandermeer in the dressing room -- the Flames allowed a franchise-record 28 shots on goal in the first, not including those that rang off the post and crossbar.

While the penalty-killers certainly deserve some credit, game star Miikka Kiprusoff took the opportunity to demonstrate why, despite his stats, he's a Vezina Trophy candidate again.

Somehow down just 2-1 after the frame, the Flames hung in until late in the evening when three goals in a 2:02 span turned a 4-2 deficit into a 5-4 lead. Yet, even though the Wings tied it in the final minute, the Flames held their own in overtime before beating Detroit in the three-man skills competition.

For a franchise that has precious little to show for it's on-ice efforts since 1990, perhaps the biggest thing to come from the game was an increased confidence that indeed this Flames team is that good.

Skilled enough to run and gun with the big boys.

Deep enough to see someone like Jamie Lundmark emerge as a scoring hero.

Experienced enough to know a) how to fight back and b) just how important this game was.

The scary thing is that the team is still missing two of its most talented players in Todd Bertuzzi and Rene Bourque.

As outlined in a handful of player meetings leading up to the game, the Flames not only wanted to stop a three-game slide, they knew this was their chance to prove to themselves, the Wings and the league they could skate with anybody.

The comments from the hosts following the game revolved around the relentless forecheck and aggression of the Flames, which eventually wore them down in a third that saw the road-weary visitors outshoot the Wings a stunning 17-2.

While that aggressiveness should have cost them the game, it ultimately won it for them, setting the tone for a playoff mentality that should see the even bigger, faster Flames focus on physically punishing whomever they play.

With one game left on their Brier-induced roadie, tonight's tilt in Toronto gives the Flames a chance to finish it 4-3 and use Hockey Night in Canada as yet another platform to demonstrate their increasing dominance.

That said, it's hard to fathom their play could say any more about them than it did two nights ago.

ERIC.FRANCIS@SUNMEDIA.CA


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