Valiant try

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 2:06 PM ET


 TAMPA -- The charter plane shuttling crabby NHL media between Calgary and Tampa the past two weeks showed the feature film Miracle, chronicling the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team's gold medal triumph.

 The flick tears at your heart while the fresh-faced American kids are knocking off the Russians -- hockey's Red Machine -- shocking the world and prompting Al Michaels' memorable shout: "Do you believe in miracles? YES!"

 As the credits rolled, one wise guy in the back row cracked: "That could never happen."

 Maybe it couldn't but it really did.

 That's one of the many reasons we're drawn to sports, not only for entertainment but to be astounded by a result that 'could never happen.'

 For the past two months, we've been captivated by a Calgary Flames team that kept knocking off opponents while startling skeptics, a miracle unfolding before our very eyes.

 This from a team that sent its fans into a frenzied party just for qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs with a late-season win over Phoenix, ending seven seasons of futility but hardly striking fear into the hearts of the rest of the NHL.

 Make no mistake, several other Western Conference teams didn't want to face the Flames in the first round, when upsets and early tee times are commonplace every spring.

 The Vancouver Canucks provided the first victim, though pushing the Flames to seven games.

 A Hall-of-Fame Detroit Red Wings lineup fell victim next before the Flames also stunned the San Jose Sharks, although by the time the Conference final had rolled around nobody was shocked by the overachieving sixth seed from Cowtown.

 On to the Stanley Cup final and a shot to achieve the unthinkable against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Eastern Conference champs that won the respect of the entire NHL by earning the top seed over the 82-game season.

 After taking a 3-2 lead in the series last Thursday, the Flames appeared poised in Game 6 Saturday in Calgary to complete its climb to the top of hockey's highest mountain by winning its first Stanley Cup in 15 seasons.

 The Sea of Red, the Red Mile, Flames sweaters, flags and banners on every street corner, those goofy red wigs.

 But in the end, a gruelling 26 playoff games had taken so much out of the Flames' patch-quilt lineup their tank was empty in the final two contests with the Cup so close they could almost touch it.

 Even Jarome Iginla, the team's only real star, failed to carry the Flames on his back to the finish line.

 It was an amazing run nobody could have predicted or dared to suggest publicly. The Calgary Flames winning the Stanley Cup? Nope.

 So there's no parade this week down 17th Ave., no Cup to hug and kiss but an Olympic Plaza party to toast the city's hockey heroes is in store today.

 They've earned it by making Calgary hockey fans believe in miracles, even if in the end it could never happen.


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