Big Bang Theory

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 1:05 PM ET


 The game plan out of the gate is always the same for the Calgary Flames.

 Hit early and often.

 It's never mattered who the opponent is, although it seems to work especially well against the Tampa Bay Lightning. At least, taking the physical play to the NHL's Eastern Conference champions certainly seemed to be the major difference in Saturday's 3-0 win in Game 3 of the 2004 Stanley Cup final series.

 "First shift, big hit," said Chris Clark of Rhett Warrener's open-ice check on Ruslan Fedotenko.

 "Second shift, big hit," continued Clark, recalling Ville Nieminen levelling Cory Stillman at the Lightning blueline.

 "Third shift and guys are finishing their checks. So it starts in the first period and we build on it. Then you see the next guy doing it and you feel out of place -- like you're not doing your job if you're not finishing your checks. It doesn't have to be a huge hit but just finishing your check drags people down."

 It certainly slowed down the Lightning, a team that thrives on its ability to wheel and deal with its offensive talent.

 For proof, just take a peek back at Game 2 of this final series.

 No hitting by the Flames. No problem for the Lightning, who went on to win 4-1 in a score that arguably flattered the Flames.

 "Everybody wanted to do it -- we talked about it before Game 2," said Clark of taking the body to the Lightning.

 "But it just didn't happen.

 "It was one of those weird things that you wish you could rewind the whole thing once you know the outcome and say we've got to do this to rectify it. We just didn't have it.

 "We know now that if they start hitting and they get into the game, we have counter it and put them back down."

 Indeed, the Bolts are hardly the most punishing club in the league. But when push comes to shove -- such as needing to rebound after a Game 1 loss -- they've been able to respond with their own brand of rough stuff.

 A more physical game, then, will be expected from them tonight in Game 4 at the Saddledome, with the Flames again leading by one game in the best-of-seven final series.

 "We'll expect them to be physical and to be better," said Flames playoff warhorse Stephane Yelle. "As for our team, when we're skating and physical and everyone is involved, that's when we play our best hockey."

 They've done that since Day 1 of the season. And with two wins left to claim the Stanley Cup, there's no sense in letting up now.

 "We've done it all year because that's been our role," Clark said. "But other teams, it might wear them down a little bit.

 "If we can drag Tampa into that type of game, we know how to do it and hopefully we can come out ahead. Like them with the hitting, we don't want to play the skill game because we know they're too good at it."


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