Trying to trip up the trap

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:53 AM ET

 It's called the neutral zone for a reason.

 It's supposed to be territory where no team can lay its claim.

 But don't tell that to the San Jose Sharks, who are determined to own the space between the bluelines.

 It's an area that could make or break the Calgary Flames in the 2004 NHL Western Conference final.

 "They've got four players across (the blueline), sometimes three, and they really try to clog up the neutral zone," said Flames assistant captain Craig Conroy.

 Fortunately, the Flames won't be mystified by the Sharks' neutral-zone trap after unlocking the Detroit Red Wings' patented left-wing lock in the last round.

 The Flames certainly possess the elements -- speed and aggressive forechecking -- needed to eliminate the trap.

 "We can't have any passes through the neutral zone," said Flames winger Chris Clark. "Everything has to go north and south. Preferably a chip (into their zone) because their defencemen will be standing us up or they'll get back-pressure from their forwards. Everything has to keep going forward and we have to be jumping forward -- nothing east-west."

 Conroy agrees.

 "We've got to put the puck into their zone and put it in the position away from the goaltender where we can retrieve it," he said.

 "I don't think we're going to try to skate it through because, watching their other series, that's where they create their turnovers. They want to create turnovers before their blueline and go back on offence.

 "Our focus is going to be no turnovers in the neutral zone and just get it in their zone and go from there."

 But there's more to combating the Sharks' trap than simply making the puck do the work.

 "The people off the puck have to work extremely hard to beat systems like that," said Flames defenceman Andrew Ference.

 "The guy with the puck can only do so much before he gets cordoned off and his options get taken away.

 "It's so important to get support, whether it comes from your D partner coming in from behind or the centreman giving good, quick support to help you out. The onus becomes so much more important for the guys off the puck than the puck carrier."

 Whether it all works for the Flames remains to be seen.

 They'll know more after today's Game 1 if the can effectively seal off the Sharks in their attempt to control the neutral zone.

 "Tough to say right now but we're going to see in the first game," said Flames winger Oleg Saprykin.

 "We'll try to play the best we can. The coaches will see how it goes and they'll push us in the right direction."

 "We just have to keep it simple in the neutral zone," Conroy added. "And that's probably going to be the key to our success."


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