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RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 1:58 PM ET


 They've been called adorable underdogs.

 Over-achievers.

 The NHL's hardest-working team.

 Still, whenever compliments are sent the Flames' way, they're usually of the backhanded variety -- you know, gee, isn't it amazing this hard-working collection of grunts and semi-stars managed to upset a couple clubs with significantly superior talent?

 At what point does the hockey world realize the Flames are actually deserving all their playoff success?

 Seeing as the Flames have dispatched third-seeded Vancouver and then the regular-season champions from Detroit, the answer is now, says former NHL goalie and Sportsnet analyst John Garrett.

 "What would have happened if Miikka (Kiprusoff) hadn't been hurt?" Garrett says to begin his theory.

 "(The Flames) had one less win than San Jose and one more than Dallas. Put Miikka into a full season instead of 38 games. He was 14 games over .500 and pro rate them over 82 games. I know that's not physically possible but if you do it, it adds up to

 112 points and the Presidents' Trophy.

 "They were that good."

 Garrett has spent a chunk of the season beating the drums for the Flames. After Calgary won the opener in the Detroit series, he said the Flames would upend the Wings.

 He insists his support has more to do with what's been built in Calgary by GM-head coach Darryl Sutter than being a Western Canadian voice who's spending the playoffs watching from Toronto.

 "The players are good enough, the upper-end players are very good and the goaltending's very good," he said.

 "Calgary has a good, young group that's between the age of 24 and 30, have grown up together -- you can throw in Denis Gauthier and Chris Clark in that -- has good goaltending, good depth on defence. They have two young guys who almost play 30 minutes a game.

 "They have a star in Jarome (Iginla) and don't have to make any changes and will be that much better having gone through all this."

 Garrett is most impressed with the development of the cornerstone players, who've all had a big impact in the post-season.

 "There are certain guys who, right from the start of the year, had matured into pretty darn good players," he said.

 "I think Robyn Regehr is a good example of a guy people in Calgary have seen grow from a diamond in the rough -- a big, lumbering defenceman -- to getting better foot speed, more mobility, more of an edge, confidence in his play.

 "Jordan Leopold, you could always see the talent but it almost looked like he was afraid. Now you can see he's very confident. The ice time he gets and reading of the plays, you could see getting better all through the regular season.

 "And then there's Jarome. Right from the start, even when he wasn't scoring, you could tell it wasn't going to be long before he was again a dominant guy.

 "Then you have the goaltending and, once Miikka came in, how much it changed. In the games he wasn't playing because he was hurt, the team was OK and around .500 but they allowed more than half a goal a game more without him and a lot of that had to do with not having as much belief the goalie was going to bail them out.

 "Now you see the fact with Miikka there every night, the confidence goes up. Even when they have a game where they allow five goals against, like Game 2, they believe in the system."

 Which starts with hard work but is much more.

 In both series, the Flames were lauded by their opposition for giving the college try. Still, both the Canucks and Wings are loaded with players who insisted their side would overcome if they matched the effort.

 If they added will to their skill.

 However, Garrett -- whose voice is being joined by more and more hockey insiders -- insists there's more to the Flames' success than just effort.

 Because of Calgary's speed and ability to create opportunities off turnovers, Garrett says both Vancouver and Detroit changed their games by talking only of matching the Flames' work ethic.

 "The highly skilled team starts thinking they just have to match them on work ethic instead of saying, 'Now and then we have to take a chance and do what we do best,' " he said.

 "What you end up with then is a 0-0 game and that plays into Calgary's hands."

 Now that's a skill.


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