The name of the game

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:42 PM ET


 CALGARY -- Montador. Commodore. Kobasew. Oliwa. Saprykin. Leopold. Nilson. Donovan. Warrener. Ference. Simon. Clark. Nieminen.

 You could see almost every new visitor to the Calgary Flames dressing room do the same thing yesterday. Their heads would slowly do the 360-degree turn, their eyes travelling from stall to stall to stall. And, one by one, as they read those names, it would hit them. These guys are two wins away from putting those names on the Stanley Cup.

 The more you hang around this team, the less astonishing it seems that this is happening. Remarkably, that's because the longer this goes on, the less unbelievable this seems to the players themselves.

 But surely the Flames must have those moments, too, just before a game or between periods, when their eyes travel around the room and the same how-the-hell-is-this-happening thought must occur.

 "That's what makes it special," said Andrew Ference.

 The Sherwood Park product, who has managed to emerge as something of the spokesman for the above-named no-names, stood for more than an hour in the corridor of the Saddledome, talking to waves of media men who are trying to wrap their heads around Darryl Sutter's miracle men.

 NO MIRACLES HERE

 In some ways it doesn't make sense, but they've done such a job manufacturing the miracle, they don't see it as miraculous anymore. They've come to believe they belong two wins away from the Stanley Cup.

 "We expect more of ourselves now," said Ference. "It's something that's grown every series. We won't be satisfied unless we go all the way now."

 Ference says you may look at the names around the dressing-room stalls, but there are all the ingredients here.

 "We have a superstar and a leader," he said of Jarome Iginla.

 "We have a goaltender who has become a superstar," he said of Miikka Kiprusoff.

 "We have the coach. We're a team created in the image of the coach. It's one thing for the coach to say it, it's another to put the plan in action and have the players buy into it. I have so much respect for him - his honesty, his work ethic, his love for the game. His individual characteristics have been passed on to this team.

 "The only goal he gave us was making the playoffs. We know better than anybody around here that's not easy. It was huge for this team. Then we won the first series and that was great. It was baby steps, though. We were certainly not looking at being in the Stanley Cup final or winning the cup."

 Martin Gelinas, who has won a cup final with the Edmonton Oilers and lost finals with the Vancouver Canucks and Carolina Hurricanes, says it's been different the way this has worked.

 "From one game to another we've built confidence and trust in each other and trust in our system, while at the same time kinda forgetting what we've done."

 In there, somewhere, is why Sutter says he's not at all concerned about having to dial his team down now that they are two wins away.

 "It's not an issue with this group," he said. "They are remarkable like that. I said it during the San Jose series. They are the toughest mental group I have ever been associated with. I've said it before. It's steady-as-she-goes with this group. You go into the room after the game and you can't tell whether they've won or they've lost. That's how they handle it.

 "It's been like that all year. You don't make the playoffs by accident. You don't realize how hard it is to make the playoffs. I mean, you look at a team like Edmonton, what they did in the last two months, and they didn't make the playoffs. To make the playoffs, you have to scratch and claw all year. Once you get there you just try to do it again.

 "Reload. Rest. Recover. It's now about the mental part."

 The Flames are tired. Sutter told half of them not even to come to the rink yesterday. But as tired as they are, they tell themselves the other guys are tired, too.

 "They go with a short bench over there," said Craig Conroy of the Lightning, who the Flames will attempt to go up 3-1 tonight. "If we're tired, some of their guys have to be more tired."

 AN INTANGIBLE

 Sutter thinks being the only Canadian team in the final for the last decade has given the team an intangible, too.

 "They've been riding that great," he said. "You need something to grab on to and they've done a really good job of that."

 The players say what they've really grabbed on to here is Sutter himself.

 "He's made everybody accountable, game in and game out, in the dressing room, on the bench and in the media. He's been building that mental toughness as we've gone along," said Conroy.

 "Now we all believe in ourselves. Now we're mentally tough and physically know how we have to play."

 Ference says the team knows exactly where they're at, going into Game 4.

 "There's a heck of a difference between being up 3-1 or tied 2-2 in a series."

 Two wins away from putting those names on a Stanley Cup, and Ference said this team couldn't be more even keel.

 "That kinda amazes me. Nobody is jumping around. But again, that's Darryl," said Ference of his coach. "He's not jumping around."


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