Goalies top factor in Wings-Flames outcome

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:35 PM ET


 Like a John Le Carre thriller, it's the subplots that fuel Stanley Cup playoff intrigue. Every series has 'em and with the next round beginning tonight, they start anew.

 Pat Quinn vs. Team Canada coaching mate Ken Hitchcock in Philadelphia.

 Joe Nieuwendyk against Philly's top defenders.

 Darcy Rumpeltuckskin, as one observer termed cranky Maple Leaf Darcy Tucker, against everyone.

 And always, the most distant of all combatants, the goaltenders, against each other.

 Down Detroit way, that's where the Red Wings and Calgary Flames series begins and ends, with the respective strengths of each team focusing as much on who can stop goals as who can cop them.

 Miikka Kiprusoff was a bit in-and-out during Calgary's frenetic full-series dismissal of Vancouver, twice conceding five goals across the seven-game haul. But the Vezina Trophy finalist tossed a shutout at Vancouver in the critical fourth game and was outstanding most of the way.

 He comes into this series on a season/playoff high. Not so the fellow at the other end.

 Curtis Joseph endured a regular season unlike any by a top-rank goalie. He went from starter to backup to sick bay, did time in the minors and was on the bench in the playoff opener against Nashville.

 Then Manny Legace faltered in the fourth game, Joseph went in and was solid the rest of the way against a committed but ultimately outclassed Nashville. Does this guy have something to prove or what?

 Last year, their defence of the Stanley Cup was a pallid four-and-out to Anaheim.

 Detroit's scorers couldn't solve Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Joseph took the heat.

 Does the word 'redemption' ring a bell?

 There's a bit of that with the coaches, too. Dave Lewis was freshman coach during Detroit's swoon last spring and comparisons were immediately made to his predecessor, Scotty Bowman. Talk about can't-win situations.

 A finalist for coach-of-the-year honours, Darryl Sutter comes at this series from the reverse angle. Where Lewis failed to oversee another successful playoff run, Sutter leads a team that has been in a playoff drought.

 The Wings have won three Stanley Cups in the past seven years. The Flames hadn't made the playoffs in seven years.

 That's not the only discrepancy. If this was television, the Flames would be more Home Reno than Canadian Idol.

 That can be overplayed this time of year as the Wings and others have learned, but it's a hockey reality. Detroit's personnel is more skilled, pure and simple.

 It can be negated, however, and Sutter has done a pretty good job of proving a young, hard-working and highly motivated group can chip the lustre off any level of talent.

 It requires almost flawless attention to detail.

 And that will be required when the Wings are doing a number on their resident superstar, the multi-talented Jarome Iginla. The Hart Trophy finalist can expect a regular diet of the Grind Line, particularly Kirk Maltby, along with rearguard treatment from the likes of Chris Chelios, Nicklas Lidstrom, Mathieu Schneider and Derian Hatcher.

 The Flames paid a price during their upset of Vancouver and it shows in the number of players who have upper-body, lower-body and, if the NHL decides to invent a new category, out-of-body injuries.

 The wounded always provide one of the subtexts of hockey this time of year. Along with the Flames, teams like the Leafs and Flyers are proving you can find a way to reconfigure what you've got to the greatest advantage. The first Wings-Flames playoff story in 26 years commences tonight in seven chapters or fewer. The notion here is two games fewer, advantage Red Wings.


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