Beyond Thunderdome

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 1:57 PM ET


 The question thrown at Steve Yzerman by a fresh-faced Detroit writer came just before the Wings left Motown for Cowtown:

 "What are your thoughts as you head to the toughest building in the NHL to play in?"

 Somehow, Stevie Y managed to answer the question without laughing.

 Yes, the building formerly known as the Silentdome has been transformed into the Thunderdome thanks to a legion of fans finally able to uncork eight years of frustration.

 Without question, it has been the loudest building in these NHL playoffs.

 However, while the crowd has certainly done its part to establish itself at home over the last two weeks, the team hadn't.

 Until last night.

 Carrying a 1-2 home record into Game 3 against Detroit, the Flames rode a tidal wave of support provided by 19,289 frothing fans.

 Feeding off the mind-numbing noise, the Flames used their energy and speed to go ahead 2-1 in the conference semifinal series with a 3-2 win.

 Turning the series back in their favour, the Flames also turned the tables on the Wings by dominating the first period, just as the Wings did to Calgary in the first two games.

 They did it the Flames way -- cycling, hitting, grinding, swarming defence and stellar goaltending plus Jarome Iginla and a resiliency that has become this club's trademark.

 Six times, Miikka Kiprusoff has allowed four or more goals this season and six times, he's rebounded with wins.

 Like rubber, this kid.

 While he was the game's third star, Iginla was the first, setting the tone for the evening with an opening period that may just have been his best ever as a Calgary Flame.

 Although the opening period ended scoreless, Iginla squirmed free for a handful of scoring chances, drew a penalty when hauled down on a partial breakaway and lifted the crowd to its feet with two point-blank shots turned aside by Curtis Joseph.

 Throughout the night, he dominated the walls and was rewarded with a powerplay goal when he converted a brilliant pass through traffic from Martin Gelinas.

 "He had two days rest and that jump he had in the first period -- he was pulling guys along with him," said coach Darryl Sutter.

 To say he carried the club on his back would be dramatic. However, he led the way for a long list of others to shine, such as Marcus Nilson, Stephane Yelle and game-winning goalscorer Shean Donovan.

 With Rhett Warrener a late scratch, the Flames had to make due with five defencemen (AHL sub Brennan Evans played

 32 seconds) who received as many standing ovations as the more obvious stars.

 Even Krzysztof Oliwa contributed, recording a shot and drawing a penalty in five minutes of play.

 Sutter has long talked about the importance of establishing an identity at home, creating an aura of invincibility. That certainly seemed to be the case last night.

 As they have throughout the playoffs, the fans enjoyed every minute of the entertaining, 56-shot ride, standing early and often, rising in unison with almost every one of the 12 third-period saves by Kiprusoff.

 The atmosphere was a throwback to the glory years, so much so that a chant of "Theo, Theo" erupted after former Flames star Theoren Fleury was shown on the jumbotron taking in the game.

 As well as the Wings played, they'll wake up this morning wondering what hockey fans all over the league are thinking: Could this Flames club be for real?

 Undaunted by Robert Lang's game-opening goal in the second or Jiri Fischer's blast to tie it at 2-2, the Flames never stopped. Neither did the fans.

 Toughest building in the NHL you say?

 That guy may just be on to something.


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