Philly's vulnerable

By RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:38 AM ET

 The Calgary Flames have bulletin-board fodder before even knowing who will be their Stanley Cup final opposition.

 Consider this prose from Delaware County Daily Times columnist Jack McCaffery after the Flyers staved off elimination with Thursday night's OT win over the Tampa Bay Lightning:

  "So the Flyers have moved closer, just slightly, to a championship, but not closer than imagined. No, they imagined exactly what has been presented to them: The most unobstructed path to a Stanley Cup that any of them will ever again have a chance to take."

 You read that right.

 The Flames -- in his humble opinion -- are no more than a speed bump between the Flyers and hockey's Holy Grail.

 That thought is nothing new this spring. Similar sentiments were coming out of Vancouver, Detroit and San Jose before the Flames faced those clubs.

 Still, there's something flawed in the logic.

 To reach this point, Calgary has dumped the top three seeds in the West: The Presidents' Trophy-winning Detroit Red Wings, a San Jose Sharks team that was third overall and a Vancouver squad that technically finished ahead of Philadelphia in the standings.

 At this point, as was the case when Anaheim made it to Game 7 last year, you can't call it a fluke.

 Also, the Flames won two more regular-season games than Philly, even though they finished seven points back.

 Oh yeah, there's one more small detail -- OK, it's not small -- the Flyers still haven't advanced to the big dance.

 A little presumptuous, wouldn't you say? Maybe all the stars will align and the premonition will come to pass.

 There's a chance Philadelphia will knock off the Lightning and easily dispatch the Flames. After all, four straight final series were sweeps in the mid-'90s.

 However, the Flames should prefer facing the Flyers than the Lightning.

 Certainly, there's plenty to fear about the 2004 Broad Street Bullies.

 Keith Primeau has provided a case as strong as Jarome Iginla's in the Conn Smythe Trophy race.

 Alexei Zhamnov and Jeremy Roenick, who's playing well below capacity due to injury, continue to provide punch.

 Even Sami Kapanen has found the scoring touch he appeared to have lost for a couple of seasons. Filled in nicely as a defenceman when asked to, as well.

 The Flyers would be worthy Cup champs.

 Their holes, however, are simply bigger than Tampa's.

 Start with the goaltending.

 Whom would you rather face in a series to decide a Stanley Cup champion: Philly's Robert Esche or Tampa's Nikolai Khabibulin?

 Khabibulin's goals-against average of 1.69 is equal to the modern-day record set by Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff in the regular season. Curiously, both the 'Bulin Wall and Kiprusoff are tied atop this year's post-season list with four shutouts.

 By comparison, Esche, boasts a 2.34 average with no goose eggs. And we all know what they say about goaltenders and championships. Especially in the goaltender graveyard that is the City of Brotherly Love.

 Next -- the defence corps.

 Tampa's unit -- Pavel Kubina, Cory Sarich, Dan Boyle, Brad Lukowich, Nolan Pratt and Darryl Sydor -- doesn't exactly invoke images of Montreal's collection of the late '70s but it's certainly healthier than what Philly's riding right now.

 At full strength, the Flyers would be fine but not having Marcus Ragnarsson and Eric Desjardins due to injury has put tremendous strain on Kim Johnsson, Mattias Timander, Vladimir Malakhov and Danny Markov. Youngsters Joni Pitkanen and Dennis Seidenberg are simply bit parts right now and are struggling with Tampa's speed.

 Calgary's speed is just as daunting.

 Finally, there's the special teams.

 In the last nine games, Philly's powerplay has struck once in 37 chances. That works out to a 2.7% success rate. Calgary's penalty killers over the last 10 contests killed 33 of 36 chances (91.7%).

 Meanwhile, the Flyers' PK has surrendered eight goals in the last five games, killing only 13 of 21 chances.

 Even with their dismal powerplay success this post-season (with an 11.9% rate), the Flames must be salivating.

 By the way, Tampa's powerplay is humming along nicely with a 28% rate, while the PK is No. 3 at 95.2%.

 History has shown the big budget teams should be feared in the final.

 For the Flames, though, beware of the smaller-budget Lightning.


Photos