CALGARY - This was supposed to be one of those benchmark games.
An acid test, set to determine where the Flames sat and whether the Flames modest two-game win streak was a sign the club was actually turning things around.
Facing off against a division rival that has had uncharacteristic struggles of its own of late, it was a chance to not only climb above the .500 mark but to gain a little confidence for the road.
In net for the visiting Canucks was the most-maligned player in the NHL — a man so controversial you couldn’t even tell if he was being booed or Lou-ed when he first touched the puck in the opening minute.
No one was sure whether Flames fans were cheering or jeering the sight of Roberto Luongo or whether Canucks faithful were supportive or full of spite.
It seemed like the perfect opportunity for the slow-starting Flames to make a statement, continue the progression and get two points.
Instead, it’s the Flames who make for Motown today with their tails between their legs.
That shaky goalie everyone’s been talking about left with one of the easier wins of his career, giving him a shot of adrenaline he has so sorely needed.
By night’s end the score sat at a humbling 5-1.
(Cue Count Floyd’s “scaaary” video from the SCTV archives.)
No less than 12 Canucks had points by the end of the second and Alex Edler looked like Paul Coffey.
Very little emotion from the redshirts and no sign of fight.
The only highlight came in the final minute when Tim Jackman picked a long overdue fight and Alex Tanguay scored.
There was no doubt those “Lou’s” were definitely “boos” at the end of the second and third periods when the Flames left the ice to clear the cobwebs.
The low point came midway through the game when the Flames top line — Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrison and Tanguay — was pinned in its own zone for the better part of a minute. The casual fans must’ve been sure it was a Vancouver powerplay as the Sedins toyed with the puck around the perimeter while the Flames stars looked like the younger brothers in a pond hockey gathering.
Lost, unable to keep up.
Bet they wished their moms would’ve whistle them in for dinner as their body language spoke volumes during their long, defeated skate to the bench.
When the ever-frustrating Rene Bourque narrowly missed converting a net-side pass early in the third he was booed, setting the tone for a listless third littered with catcalls, Bronx cheers and raspberries.
Call them what you will, the fans left pissed off.
The players even more so.
Miikka Kiprusoff, who took a little abuse from the fans after surrendering five goals in the first two periods, was mercifully yanked before the third.
On a night Flames faithful should have been ecstatic over the opening of Dusty’s Tunnel — connecting Stampede Park to the downtown core — they instead raced through the neon thoroughfare as fast as they could to distance themselves from the Dome’s newfound stench.
Given the vitriol sure to dominate talk of the Flames the next few days, perhaps the timing of their biggest stinker in recent memory is good given they’ll fly east.
Then again, their next test is against the Detroit Red Wings, followed by the surging Sabres.
Maybe this humble reality check is what the Flames needed.
Or maybe this team really isn’t very good, as most pundits suggested all summer.
It’s far too early to tell for sure, but last night’s display must have even the heartiest of fans worried.
Yes, this one was supposed to tell us plenty about the Flames.
If so, the message is scarier than anything seen a night earlier around town.
Eric Francis appears regularly as a panellist on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada.