It's last-chance saloon

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 3:16 PM ET


 CALGARY -- One win. The final. The Flames.

 Find somebody else to explain how this has happened. I'm out.

 I wrote 'em off after Game 4. I joined the club which had already attracted a significant membership in the first two rounds.

 The sun was supposed to have set on this series but it was a gorgeous sunny day in the foothills of the Rockies here yesterday as the Flames returned home after making roadkill of the San Jose Sharks again. And coach Darryl Sutter was having fun dealing with the legion of doom.

 "It's not about what anybody else thinks, it's what we think," he said.

 ONE WIN AWAY FROM CUP BERTH

 Horns had honked long into the night in Calgary after the 3-0 win which left the Flames one win away from the Stanley Cup final. A team which finished 22nd last year, hadn't been in the playoffs for eight years or won a series since 1989, is now on the verge of writing one of the most unimaginable Canadian sports stories of all time.

 One win. The final. The Flames.

 It's hard to conceptualize what it might be like if they win tonight. Already 100,000 flags have been sold to fly out of windows of cars, and almost a quarter as many Flames sweaters. Flames fans have spent so much money in bars on game nights that they might have to cancel Christmas here. And all of a sudden it was like the night before Christmas.

 One win. The final. The Flames.

 The trouble with the game here tonight is that it's here tonight. Calgary is 3-5 at home in the playoffs.

 "We've been good and lucky on the road and at home we've won the big games," said Sutter, who has been steady on the rudder as coach of this club.

 While he has shown no hesitation to call players out who don't get it done, and has done so since Game 1 of the Vancouver series, Sutter says there's one thing maybe everybody can't come to grips with when it comes to this group.

 "They are the mentally toughest group, as a group, I've ever been associated with. If we didn't have that mental toughness we wouldn't have made the playoffs. It's easy for our team to set a period aside or a game aside and go out there and play better the next game."

 That said, there is that one little quirky flaw one can't help but notice. While this team is an implausible 8-2 on the road in the playoffs, it's about that improbable 3-5 at home. What do you do about that?

 "We'll have a sleepover," said Sutter.

 That's it. That's the ticket. Put 'em all in a hotel. Or was Sutter just enjoying a moment with the media, a minority of whom hadn't stuck a fork in 'em and declared 'em done at some stage of this remarkable run the Flames have now taken to a new level of unbelievability?

 "Some guys need to go to a hotel or need to go by themselves the day of the game or the night before. Some guys don't. Everybody is different. What's wrong? What's right? I really don't know."

 I felt it necessary to ask a supplemental question at Sutter's noon gathering of the disbelievers. "So, it's an optional sleepover?"

 "If it was at my house, it wouldn't be."

 It's a mind-boggling prospect we might be looking at here whether or not Sutter sent his players to a hotel last night.

 You almost want them to lose this one, to take it to a seventh game in San Jose, to see if they could make history. No best-of-seven series has ever gone the limit with visiting teams winning all seven games. But that would be tomorrow's storyline. Yesterday the Flames came home to a scene very much like they did a week ago when they were up 2-0 in the series.

 "I've been thinking of playing in the Stanley Cup final since I was a kid. I've done all the dreaming," said Flames defenceman Andrew Ference, the Sherwood Park product.

 Maybe, he suggested, when they came home up 2-0, they got a little too giddy and let it get to them in Game 3 and 4.

 "We deserved to lose those games. We didn't come out and play good hockey. Now we can point to that and know what caused those losses."

 Jarome Iginla, who keeps showing leadership which reminds you of that other St. Albert product, Mark Messier, said having come home up 2-0, and gassing those games, might help them win this one.

 ANOTHER LESSON LEARNED

 "It's a lesson learned. When we were up 2-0, San Jose came in here a very desperate team. They played with more urgency. We went back to San Jose and we were more desperate and played with more urgency.

 "Whenever we've had success it's not been about getting ahead of ourselves. When we were up 2-0, you start thinking, 'Geez, we're two games away.' We probably did get a little ahead of ourselves."

 It's time, he said, to remind each other again that there are 30 teams in this league, that they went eight years without making the playoffs and that to be one win away from the Stanley Cup final is something that doesn't happen every day.

 "You want to believe it will happen again next year and every year, but that might not be the case. When you're this close, it has to make you even hungrier," said Iginla.

 One win. The final. The Flames.


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