Good ice may burn Flames

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:55 PM ET

 Skilled Lightning should be better on smooth Saddledome surface, Al Strachan predicts

 Under normal circumstances, the Calgary Flames would be happy to be heading home with a split.

  But these are not normal circumstances. For the Flames, whose home playoff record is 4-5, a road split might not be good enough.

 One of the problems is that the Flames are going home to good ice and at this time of the year, when you're playing elite teams, that puts the Flames at a disadvantage.

 They're not a particularly skilled team, but they have a lot of speed and tenacity. They give the opposition no time to be creative and they hit everything that moves.

 On the road, where ice surfaces aren't as good -- to put it mildly -- that style tends to be effective.

 The Flames don't try to get pretty goals. They just try to go to the net and do some damage from short range.

 The Flames' lack of pure offensive skill shows up on their power play -- which is abysmal. With a man advantage, you want to make some plays, get the defenders out of position and create glorious opportunities.

 In seven power plays on Thursday night in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final, the Flames created only one glorious opportunity -- and it went to Brad Richards of the Tampa Bay Lightning. He had a clean breakaway that Miikka Kiprusoff stopped.

 The Flames did get a meaningless power-play goal late in the game when Ville Nieminen blasted a shot from the top of the circle past Nikolai Khabibulin, but all that did was distort the statistics.

 It was just a line rush, not the type of power-play goal that comes off a setup in the zone, and furthermore, Nieminen isn't normally part of the Flames power play.

 It was late in the game and the score was 4-0 at the time, so coach Darryl Sutter sent him out.

 So now, the Flames power play has a post-season success rate of 11.6%. The Lightning's power play has been effective 20% of the time.

 With an effective power play, the Flames could have put themselves in total control of this series. They had five of the first seven power plays on Thursday but couldn't beat Khabibulin on the first one and looked totally inept on the other four.

 No matter what spin the league tries to put on the matter, the ice surface in Tampa is atrocious. As often as not, the puck is bouncing like an golf ball on a marble floor.

 In Calgary, where the Lightning's skilled players can work their magic, the Flames will have to be at the very pinnacle of their game.

 As they're fully aware, they'll have to minimize the Tampa Bay opportunities by staying out of the box. But the catch is that while they can avoid stupid penalties, there are times when the choice is either taking a penalty or allowing a golden scoring opportunity.

 If the Lightning is allowed to get rolling, it will force the Flames into situations of that nature. The Bolts have two potent scoring lines and if they're allowed to roll in on the under-manned Calgary defence, even the now-commonplace miracles produced by Kiprusoff won't be able to deny them.

 The Flames will have their fans behind them and, perhaps, with all the playoff hysteria that is evident in Calgary, the Lightning will get caught up in the moment and lose its focus.

 But a better hope for the Flames is to look upon tonight's game as a Game 7, to pound the Lightning into submission from the start and to do everything they can to use their biggest weapon -- their speed -- to frustrate the Tampa forwards.

 It may be tiring, painful and difficult, but it's the way they got to this level.

 And, as Tampa's Martin St. Louis pointed out on Thursday, "There's nothing to save it for at this time of the year."


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