Underdog club sticks to plan

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:55 AM ET


 Still think it's going to be a short series?

 Certainly many Calgarians thought as much prior to last night's Game 1 in Detroit. Most predicted the highly favoured, highly skilled Red Wings to win in five games.

 Then came last night's 2-1 overtime win over the Wings and renewed hope in the Flames. Not that hope should have been lost.

 Even facing the NHL's regular-season champions, who have won three Stanley Cups in the last seven years, there's a big reason why the Flames faithful should never have shed faith prior to the start of this second-round series. It's called execution of the game plan.

 Weather the storm early. Play solid defensively. And gather momentum as the game wears on.

 They did it time and again against the Vancouver Canucks in the opening round -- mostly when they trailed in the series and certainly in the Game 7 clincher.

 And they continued to do it last night with the best 'team' effort in these playoffs and under the leadership of a coach proving to be the real MVP of the club.

 The game plan began with Darryl Sutter playing the Red Wings up as the series favourite. Just enough was said by the man of few words to reaffirm in the Wings' mind they indeed had the upper-hand in the series.

 Sutter gave the favourites just enough to keep them comfortable, while the Flames came in low and under their radar.

 Then his charges went out and executed their game plan. Only a few scrambly moments in the second period kept it from being near-perfect execution.

 The key was to get through the opening minutes unscathed. Then, it was get through the first powerplay untouched. And finally, it was get through the first period without allowing a goal.

 They did all that to give them an important early-series lift.

 Never mind being outshot 13-2. The first period was about survival. Surviving the nerves. Surviving the Joe Louis Arena crowd. And surviving the early attack of the Red Wings.

 The focus was on defence rather than offence and that's how they survived.

 But in the second period, they had that focus rattled, thanks mostly to taking twice the penalties of the home side. The four minors flagged on the Flames set them back on their heels and there was plenty of running around in their own zone.

 But they shook it off like they've done so many times in these playoffs to equalize the game and give them a measure of confidence for the third period.

 And the tie game through 40 minutes played right into their game plan.

 In the third, the Flames turned to the offensive, pushing the play on the Wings to carry more of the game.

 Again they were outshot

 6-4 but they clearly had the momentum going into overtime.

 In the extra session, the Flames took it to the Wings and won quickly.

 Of course, it'll make it tougher for Game 2, with the Wings likely to come out flying.

 But if the Flames stick to the game plan -- the one that's worked so well -- you never know. Maybe it will be short.

 Flames in five perhaps?


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