Oleg up on competition

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 3:52 PM ET


 He's no Chris Simon. Not, yet.

 Oleg Saprykin is hardly a pillar of puck intimidation. He's certainly not a Simon-esque bruising battler with soft hands.

 Fact is, the enigmatic Russian is only threatening when he's skating circles around the enemy and stirring up a fuss with drive-to-the-net agitation. And that's what the team is getting from Saprykin in his playoff debut.

 The Moscovite has proved one of the Calgary Flames' best forwards in this first-round series against the Vancouver Canucks.

 Saprykin is constantly moving his feet, weighing in for battles in the corners and along the boards and driving the net to get more shots off (six) than any teammate in Game 4 -- and any teammate but Jarome Iginla in the series.

 His reward is a goal, rare kudos from head coach Darryl Sutter and a spot on the top line alongside Iginla and Craig Conroy, with Simon suffering from a suspected knee injury.

 "It feels great," said the 23-year-old left-winger, who finished with 12 goals and 29 points in 69 regular-season games.

 "I've never been in playoffs. It feels awesome just to be playing. Just like a lot of young guys on the team.

 "We're trying to step up the energy level. We've never been in the playoffs before, so we have to bring in the energy to show we can play in the playoffs and make a difference in the game. That's what you have to do."

 Especially when you're playing alongside the team's top two offensive stars.

 "Obviously, there's more pressure," Saprykin said of playing on the No.-1 line.

 "But that's what's nice about it -- when you feel pressure, you have to do something. I think when you have pressure, you have to play better -- play for the team and play for the guys. If something happens, you have to take responsibility."

 Saprykin is expected to join Iginla and Conroy again tonight for Game 5 of the series in Vancouver.

 "Simon's doubtful," said Sutter yesterday.

 "He'd have to get a lot better in a hurry to play."

 Saprykin needed to get a lot better to be a Flames regular in these playoffs.

 And that's what happened.

 Asked yesterday if Game 4 was Saprykin's best effort this season, Sutter was quick to point out his young talent played even better in the first two games in Vancouver.

 Saprykin isn't surprised by the coach's praise or his own superior play.

 "No, I don't surprise myself," he said. "To me, it's so exciting. I feel this is a more positive way and try to put my whole excitement in the game. You try and play it like it's the last shift of your year. You don't want to stop. You want to keep rolling."


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