Don't open up 'n' say awe

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:33 PM ET


 The second round marks new ground for the Calgary Flames.

 Time to put behind the wild seven-game, first-round series with the Vancouver Canucks. Say goodbye to the likes of Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrison and Ed Jovanovski and leave all the hoopla that came with winning the emotional roller-coaster over a division rival.

 So what then is their reward for the opening round triumph?

 "Stanley Cup winners, the Presidents' Trophy winners," said assistant captain Craig Conroy.

 "They're expected to win the Stanley Cup and they've just got a team that feels feel like it can win another Cup."

 While they failed miserably in trying to repeat as NHL champions last spring, they are still the mighty Red Wings.

 They finished on top of the league's standings this season with 109 points and went into the playoffs as the odds-on favourite to capture their fourth Cup in eight years.

 Of course, the Western Conference winners boast future Hall-of-Fame players such as Brett Hull, Chris Chelios, Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom and Brendan Shanahan. And they're backed up by a bunch of top-notch youngsters in Jiri Fischer, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Then there are some of the game's best role players in Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Darren McCarty and Derian Hatcher.

 Daunting might be the best word to describe the task at hand for the Flames.

 But if the players are feeling that kind of heat, they're not letting on with Game 1 on tap tonight at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

 "For us, it's so exciting," Conroy said.

 "We're moving forward and it's a learning experience. In general, we've gotta stay composed, I know. It is the Detroit Red Wings. It's just like you're playing one of the greatest franchises of all time. It's like playing the Montreal Canadiens.

 "But now we gotta go in there and put that all aside and just play our game -- just our will against their will. We're going to have to outbattle and outcompete them because we're not going to outskill them. We already know that. It's all those other little intangibles we have to be better at."

 In particular, Conroy and Co. can't be in awe of the awesome attack.

 "Just to have a constant stream of great players coming at you, I think we're excited about it," said Flames defenceman Andrew Ference.

 "I always like playing against those really good players. It's some of the guys you watched growing up but you're not out there asking for autographs. It's a challenge to yourself as a hockey player and the good players will rise up and accept that and have fun with it. They're not going to be cowering because of some guy's history."

 Still, given the Wings' decorated past, nobody is giving the Flames much of a chance to pull off the upset.

 "That might be the general consensus outside the locker-room," Ference said.

 "Within the room, we've always believed in winning. Down the stretch, we had to win some key games and beat some very good teams."

 Including the Red Wings.

 "We're going in to win," Ference said. "You don't get into the playoffs and be satisfied if you win one series. That's not what hockey is about and that's not what kind of drive and ambition our team has shown this year."

 Besides, the Flames can draw from the fact they have already dispatched the Canucks, another conference club boasting a strong contingent of highly skilled players.

 "You're sick of seeing (Canucks Markus) Naslund, (Brendan) Morrison and all those guys on the (dressing room) board," Conroy said. "Now we got some new guys."


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