Happily ever after?

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:19 AM ET

 As the charter flight carrying journalists from Tampa to Calgary was being loaded early yesterday morning, a baggage cart pulled onto the tarmac with a message taped to it.

 "See you Monday for Game 7," said the handwritten sign.

  It was, quite frankly, one of the only acknowledgements around town the Stanley Cup final was being played in the Sun Belt.

 Aside from the odd baggage handler, snowbird or rink attendant, few in Florida have invested the type of emotional equity in the Lightning that Calgary fans have for the Flames.

 Oh sure, over the last couple weeks, it's probably been a ton of fun for the locals to buy their first hockey jersey, head down to the rink and marvel at the shiny ice as part of the Sunshine State's coolest novelty.

 But these hockey neophytes haven't suffered through an S.O.S. campaign, forced trades of superstars, the threat of relocation or the pain of having your national sport essentially ripped out from under you.

 That's why the stage now is set for the perfect ending. In Calgary.

 It would only make sense the most improbable playoff run in Stanley Cup history is capped off in front of the ones who helped make the journey so special.

 The fans.

 The ones who made it possible.

 The ones who toughed it out through seven years of bad hockey, bad drafts, bad luck and bad feelings.

 The ones who've harnessed all their frustrations over the years, channelled them into a glorious Sea of Red and filled the 'Dome when their team struggled.

 Heck, on Thursday, they filled the 'Dome when the team wasn't even there.

 Demonstrating to the world how proud Calgarians are of their team and their city, they've put their passion on display along the Red Mile for two months of celebrations.

 An eight-week Stampede party with jerseys instead of hats.

 Good, clean revelry.

 Observers from afar want to believe that'll all change tonight, suggesting it's only a matter of time before things turn ugly. They figure a questionable call or two, a gut-wrenching loss, or even a win, could turn Cowtown into a mob scene a la Vancouver or Montreal.

 Calgary's better than that.

 Tonight will prove it, regardless of the score. Nothing could mar the magic that has enveloped this great city of late.

 Given the state of the team the last decade and the state of the league today, most figured the only return visit the Stanley Cup would make to a small-market club like Calgary's would be on the 'Dome's concourse for promotional viewing.

 Yet somehow, through the magic of Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff and a cast of characters Darryl Sutter has melded into one of the greatest Cinderella stories in league history, the most famous trophy in sport could make its way onto the ice tonight.

 To be hoisted by a beloved bunch brought together by hockey's newly crowned genius.

 No one expects it to be easy -- it never has been for this group, which has made the journey all the more intriguing.

 From midway through the Vancouver series to Thursday's Game 5 overtime win, it seemed every time the club had run out of magic, 20 men in Flames red stepped up to prove the world wrong.

 Given the heartache, the obstacles, the struggles and the odds, it would mean more to win the Stanley Cup here tonight than it possibly could anywhere else.

 Yes, including Toronto.

 Oh sure, while a record Hockey Night in Canada audience upwards of five million would applaud the rightful return of Stanley's Cup to Canada, the odd baggage handler and maybe a million other Americans would go to bed mildly upset.

 But even they would have to agree that, with apologies to Smarty Jones, a finer story has not been penned in sport of late than the one the Flames will try finishing off tonight.

 In front of their fans.

 The perfect ending indeed.


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