Halfway to NHL glory

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 1:18 PM ET


 The Calgary Flames are halfway home in their 2004 Stanley Cup pursuit.

 Or so we all thought.

 Eight of 16 wins needed to capture hockey's Holy Grail.

 Check.

 And two of four rounds survived in the trophy chase.

 Check.

 "I think we're more than halfway there," corrected Flames GM/head coach Darryl Sutter yesterday.

 "We're one of four teams left of 30."

 True enough, coach.

 So, in that case, the celebrations that have rocked the city since Martin Gelinas' overtime goal Monday night -- including dogpiles, horn honking, flag waving and public displays of nudity -- hold even more significance than first (and second-round) impressions led us to believe.

 "For our team to get to the final four, it's a huge accomplishment," Sutter said. "It doesn't matter what anybody says.

 "In fact, I don't care what anyone else thinks."

 Well ... for the record, the players think differently.

 In a rare break from tradition in this amazing relationship between the no-nonsense coach and his loyal subjects, the players have overtaken their leader on this point. Even after a few days away to reflect on their feats of eliminating two highly skilled opponents to move on to the Western Conference final, the Flames are still focused on the task at hand.

 "I don't think there's a guy in this room who can say they're sincerely happy with where we're at yet," said defenceman Andrew Ference.

 "The thing is you just go and it's not something to reflect on too much until the end because we know what the goal is and you keep it one day at a time," agreed Shean Donovan. "Maybe when you're done, you can reflect.

 "But there's not too much of that because you're still in the midst of the battle and you're still nervous and excited for every game."

 Make no mistake, the players' attitude is more an extension of their coach rather than rebelling against authority.

 Fact is, Sutter certainly believes his charges can continue their red-hot drive. He just doesn't want to -- and shouldn't -- trivialize what the Flames have already accomplished.

 "I think we've done a lot of good things so far," echoed Gelinas. "You get to this point and it's exciting -- four more wins and we could be at the big dance. But I think we're pretty grounded and Darryl will make sure that we're all on the same page. He told us he'd be disappointed if we don't play as hard as we did in the past."

 "It really is a team feeling," agreed Ference. "It comes down from the coaches. It comes down from the management. I think that one thing this team has done is met its goals at certain points in the season, like making playoffs. But in making those goals, we celebrate them at the moment and move on to our next goal."

 "We're not done yet -- we want to get to the final," said captain Jarome Iginla. "You look at last year and the year before, we saw other (underdog) teams (like the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Carolina Hurricanes) do it. It gave us all hope. Maybe we can finish the deal.

 "What's the goal of any NHL player? It's to win the Stanley Cup. Every team thinks it's possible. Now it's closer for us. It's about getting refocused. And we are.

 "We're halfway there and we want to keep it going."


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