Flames playoffs create history

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 3:46 PM ET


 TAMPA -- The Calgary Flames are not only four wins away from winning the Stanley Cup, they're four wins away from making history.

 Simply put, if Darryl Sutter's soldiers can successfully complete their improbable playoff run, it will go down as the biggest upset in hockey lore.

 Never before has a team ranked as poorly as sixth in the conference (or 12th overall) been able to outlast all challengers in sports' most gruelling tourney.

 The biggest long-shot to date came in 1994-95 when ninth-ranked New Jersey claimed the Cup in a lockout-shortened season.

 Never before has a team knocked off all three division-winners in their conference en route to the final like the Flames have.

 Making it even more remarkable would be the fact the Tampa Bay Lightning is the top-ranked team in the East.

 Since the league's initial expansion in 1967, only three teams (the 1993-94 New York Rangers, 1990-91 Pittsburgh and 1970-71 Montreal) have won the Stanley Cup one year after missing the playoffs, never mind seven consecutive seasons without a post-season appearance.

 While some now figure the Flames' system, heart and momentum will give the club an even-money shot against the powerhouse Lightning, need anyone be reminded three months ago they were 50-1 longshots.

 In October, they were pegged at 100-1 in pre-season magazines, in which nine out of 10 experts figured the Flames to be at least ninth in the conference and out of the playoffs again.

 "Certainly, it would rank as one of the greatest upsets in NHL history, if not the biggest, if the Flames won," confirmed long-time Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster Scott Oake.

 "I remember doing a game there midway through last year and the mood was ugly. Look at how things have changed. This year the expectations were just to make the playoffs and now they can win the friggin' Stanley Cup."

 Even as late as the all-star break, few outside of Calgary figured the Flames would end seven years of playoff futility. That was when Sutter, a statistical genius, used simple math to motivate and keep his club focused.

 Sutter divided the final 28 games of the season into four separate seven-game series to get his club into a playoff mentality while also demonstrating how many wins they needed to enter the post-season tourney.

 The club went on to win all four series -- including a 'seventh-game' win over Colorado 7-1 -- and managed to squeak into the playoffs in the final week of the season.

 They did it without the aid of first-line centre Steven Reinprecht or first-line winger Dean McAmmond. They've since gone on to add three shocking series victories over Vancouver, Detroit and San Jose to their resume without the help of top-four defencemen Toni Lydman and Denis Gauthier.

 Lest we forget all this was made possible by an unproven, third-string goaltender acquired a month into the season as a stop-gap measure. No wonder Calgarians are naming their kids after Miikka Kiprusoff.

 And no wonder the entire city is gripped by Flames fever -- the club is on the verge of doing what no team has done before.


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