Former Flames see Cinderella

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:05 AM ET

 Their only other playoff meeting was 26 years ago.

Then, Ken Houston, Bill Clement and their Atlanta Flames felt confident they could eliminate the Detroit Red Wings from the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs.

"It was a long time ago," said Houston of the only other time the Flames and Red Wings met in the post-season. "We were supposed to be the favourite. But for whatever reason, things didn't turn out."

The Red Wings won the 1978 best-of-three, first-round series with a 5-3 win at The Omni in Atlanta and a 3-2 victory at The Olympia in Detroit.

The current Flames lead their best-of-seven semifinal series with the Wings 1-0. Game 2 is this afternoon in the Motor City (1 p.m., CBC).

But back to 1978.

"Bill Lochead scored two goals," said Clement, putting on his best ESPN hockey broadcast voice. "On the winning goal, he squeezed by Dick Redmond on the boards. We couldn't believe he let him get by.

"But that happened to us every year. Those best-of-threes sucked. There were a lot of upsets and we were on the wrong end of them. I just remember getting back on the charter plane after that (3-2) game and realizing the season was over."

Again.

While based in Georgia, the Flames never did get beyond the opening round. In six first-round forays, they lost twice to the Los Angeles Kings and once each to the Detroit, Philadelphia, Toronto and New York Rangers.

"It wasn't until Calgary we were able to push forward," said Clement, who's in Detroit to call Game 2 for ESPN.

And in their inaugural year after the move, the Flames came within two wins of the 1981 Stanley Cup final. They eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks in three straight games then edged the Flyers in seven games before falling to the Minnesota North Stars in six.

Of course, the Flames eventually won the Stanley Cup in 1989 but they didn't reach the second round again until Game 1 against the Red Wings Thursday night.

"I'd like to see them do well," said Houston over the phone from Chatham, Ont. "It was a great hockey game. Calgary played well. After being an emotional high the last series, I was surprised to see them come out and play with the same kind of emotion.

"I honestly think they stack up well against Detroit. They may not have the same kind of skill but they're relentless and they work so well.

"And the way this kid (Miikka Kiprusoff) is playing in net, who knows how far they'll go."

However, Houston, a member of the Flames from 1975 to '82, has ties to both teams and isn't playing favourites in the series.

Neither is Clement, despite also playing with the Flames from 1975 to '82, although he admits being won over by the Flames since their arrival in The Motor City.

"I'm so far removed from my days in Calgary and I've learned to be so impartial as a broadcaster," Clement said.

"I'm always asked, 'Who do you cheer for?' I cheer for the people. I don't cheer for the colour.

"And all of a sudden, I'm feeling some sort of bond with this Flames team because they are such neat guys. When you go to talk to them, they're completely accessible -- not just physically but emotionally. They're a really easy team to love.

"They're going to frustrate Detroit. They've got Cinderella written all over them."


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