Top-flight Hawks too strong

ERIC FRANCIS

, Last Updated: 7:40 AM ET

The reality facing the Calgary Flames as they woke up yesterday must have been disturbing.

They're not even close to being good enough to beat the Chicago Blackhawks this year.

Oh sure, the Flames are one of the NHL's top 10 teams, capable of beating anyone on any given day.

Anyone except for the Blackhawks, that is.

And for a Calgary squad with their eyes on the prize this year, it's tough to swallow the fact that if there's a Hawks/Flames rematch this spring, there is absolutely no doubt how it will end: Badly.

As demonstrated Thursday night at the Saddledome, the Hawks own the Flames like the Harlem Globetrotters own the Washington Generals; like Tiger Woods owns the PGA Tour; like every team in hockey owns the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Younger, faster and infinitely deeper than the Flames, the Blackhawks' high-end talent has shown conclusively over the last two years it's capable of not just beating Calgary but humiliating them.

During that time, the Hawks have won all six regular-season meetings with the Flames -- and 10 of 12, if you include the playoffs (outscoring them 53-29). They haven't lost at the Saddledome since Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane joined the Hawks three years ago.

The sad part for Flames fans is as good as the team has been this year, it's hard to fathom Brent Sutter -- or even Darryl Sutter for that matter -- can do anything to alter the inevitable fact Calgary is incapable of beating Chicago, especially in a seven-game series.

They just don't match up well at all.

Unless the Hawks are upset early on in the spring tourney, any playoff march the Flames may be capable of piecing together will end in the Windy City. Period.

Long before Thursday's humbling 7-1 loss turned into a rout, it was clear early on the Flames are at a radically different level than the Hawks.

We saw it earlier this year when the Flames blew a 5-0 lead and lost at the United Center. We saw it last year in the playoffs when the Flames bowed out in six. And if we didn't believe it then, we had the point hammered home two sleeps ago on a night when the Flames had every reason to put their best foot forward and make a statement.

Message sent: It's futile.

People can point to bad line changes and bad penalties all they want, but the reality is 5-on-5 the Flames couldn't keep up. The Hawks' defence is just too big, strong, mobile and smart to allow any sustained pressure.

Yes, some will point out the Flames' goaltending is better than the Blackhawks'.

But who needs great goaltending when every Hawks forward is committed to helping out a defensive unit that is already amongst the league's elite?

What's scary is the Hawks are just about to get infinitely better as one of the league's best defensive forwards -- Marian Hossa -- returns from off-season surgery.

The fact the Hawks got goals from seven different players Thursday was symbolic, as they can use any number of weapons to finish off opponents. And while the Flames' scoring depth has improved this year, it pales in comparison to the offensive talents boasted in Chicago.

As the Flames did in the '80s when they realized nothing mattered except building a team to beat the Edmonton Oilers, they must alter their attitude, style and even personnel to have a shot at upsetting their nemesis in Illinois.

The Flames can now embark on this stretch of eight road games in nine outings and rack up impressive wins as they did before losing two straight at home.

But all of it will mean little if their playoff schedule takes them anywhere near where Oprah or the Cubbies call home.

Because as far as the Flames are concerned, the Hawks can't be beat.

And both teams know it.

ERIC.FRANCIS@SUNMEDIA.CA


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