Hawk and a hard place

IAN BUSBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 12:13 PM ET

After their divisional title hopes were blown away, the Calgary Flames were given a ticket to the Windy City.

By virtue of the Vancouver Canucks' 1-0 overtime victory against the Colorado Avalanche yesterday afternoon, the Flames knew before game time last night they would face the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the NHL playoffs.

The No. 5-seeded Flames will open at the No. 4 Hawks, likely Thursday.

"They will come out with the excitement of being in the playoffs," said Flames centre Craig Conroy about the Hawks, who make a post-season appearance for the first time since 2001-02.

"Chicago ... a lot of those guys haven't been in the playoffs. For us, we know it's going to be a long series.

"We will come with the preparation we can't get too high or low. That's where we're at right now. We're learning the lesson as this season's come down to the wire. We just have to be even-keel and move forward. We will use that as best we can."

The Hawks are a speedy team with several rising stars who haven't seen post-season action. They are led up front by the likes of Patrick Kane, Kris Versteeg and Jonathan Toews, while Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are solid blueliners.

All those players are making playoff debuts in Chicago, a city starved for a winning hockey team.

The pressure, Conroy hopes, has shifted from the Flames in their failed chase for the division title, to the Hawks, who are under the bright lights for the first time.

"When you are a favourite, there is more pressure on you," Conroy said. "There is more pressure and expectation at home. The team coming in wants to take advantage of that. We know we do have experience ... We just need to go out and play our game."

The Flames haven't played well lately, nor have they fared well against the Hawks this season.

In four meetings with Chicago, the Hawks won each time, with one coming in overtime. The other scores were 6-1, 5-2 and 5-2.

And with several key players out with injuries, the Flames have lost six of their past nine games prior to last night's season finale against the Edmonton Oilers.

No worries, said Conroy.

"I remember one year in St. Louis, we beat San Jose every game one season. We won the President's Trophy, and they beat us in the playoffs," Conroy said.

"It doesn't matter what you do in the regular season. It matters what you do in the playoffs. We get a fresh slate.It will be a new season. Whenever everyone writes you off is when teams come together.

"As a team, we have to believe we can do it. Things haven't gone as well as we would have liked. We have to regroup. You look at a team like the Arizona Cardinals this year. They struggled down the stretch, but they came together, played well and almost won (the Super Bowl).

"That's what you have to believe. It's a seven-game series, and we feel we can beat anybody in the league. We have to believe that going in. We have one of the best goalies in the world. We will get some players back, so we have to believe."

One of those players who may return from injury is forward Rene Bourque. He skated by himself yesterday and could be set to come back from a high ankle sprain.

The Flames should get a boost from Bourque, seeing as how he came over from the Hawks this off-season.

"Bourque loves playing them," Conroy said. "We haven't played Chicago that well this year. He actually thrives against Chicago."

IAN.BUSBY@SUNMEDIA.CA

EYING UP THE HAWKS

SERIES AT A GLANCE

NOV. 9 AT CHICAGO

Blackhawks 6 Flames 1

DEC. 19 AT CALGARY

Blackhawks 3 Flames 2 OT

JAN. 4 AT CHICAGO

Blackhawks 5 Flames 2

FEB. 5 AT CALGARY

Blackhawks 5 Flames 2


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