Bad blood spills over

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 3:21 PM ET


 As expected, Calgary's first Stanley Cup playoff game in eight years was swept away in a Sea of Red.

 As in blood.

 While 19,289 vociferous Flames fans papered the 'Dome with red jerseys, the players littered the ice with blood as the first round series between Calgary and Vancouver took a nasty turn.

 The sticks came up, the gloves came off and the hits just kept on coming while a deafening roar provided the backdrop to a 2-1 Vancouver win and a similar lead in the series.

 "There sure was a lot of blood out there," said Vancouver's Brad May, who saw it firsthand as a head-first collision with the post left him with a frightening goose egg and plenty of stitches he termed "a frontal lobotomy."

 "Both teams played desperate. I tell you, everybody in that building got their money's worth. That was one tough game."

 In an evening in which injured players seemed to be dropping out of the contest like flies, the Flames suffered the most unfortunate casualty of the night when Vancouver netminder Dan Cloutier dropped awkwardly to make a save and injured his knee.

 Cloutier, who has long been unable to shake a reputation for being the Canucks weakest link, spent the first period fighting the puck as usual, kicking out huge rebounds on the first six shots of the night.

 He was also clearly beaten twice by Craig Conroy who rattled both shots off the post without reward.

 He was replaced with 29 ticks left in the first by a far more reliable sort, Johan Hedberg, who was solid enough the rest of the way to thwart mild Flames chances.

 It may prove to be the turning point in the series.

 "He's a very good goalie, he's extremely strong mentally and he has the skill to be a starting goalie," said Flames defenceman Andrew Ference, owner of the mashed-up face of the series, who roomed with Hedberg in 2001 when he backstopped the Penguins to an improbable playoff run.

 "Just because he played behind Cloutier doesn't mean he isn't No. 1 in some guys eyes."

 Following two relatively tame, yet intense games, last night's war saw the list of casualties grow to include Toni Lyman (who Darryl Sutter said was a victim of a cheap shot) and Cloutier, who both left the game.

 When the dust had settled on a game that saw the Canucks come out harder and smarter than the jacked-up hosts, the Flames' entire first line of Jarome Iginla, Chris Simon and Conroy were stationed in the Flames medical room receiving treatment for various ailments.

 Conroy's injury came early in the second when Hedberg -- who gives the Canucks much more stickhandling ability -- smashed the Flames center in the mouth with his follow through.

 Conroy returned in the third with a full face-shield.

 Not only was Simon clipped in the face early on by a high stick but he was subsequently sucker punched and jumped by Ed Jovanovski and Jarko Ruutu following a goalmouth skirmish. Simon came up fighting with gloves off.

 Indicative of just how much more intense things got last night, even the battle of good guys between Iginla and Mattias Ohlund turned ugly when, with the Flames trying desperately to match Matt Cooke's go-ahead goal, the Canucks defenceman crushed Iginla's from behind, jamming his face into the boards.

 That prompted Iginla to chase down the burly Swede during the final ten seconds to drop his gloves and deliver a handful of punches.

 "Maybe it was good for him to get that out of his system," said Robyn Regehr, whose club's 1-0 lead early in the second period evaporated 66 seconds later when Markus Naslund answered Simon's goal on the powerplay.

 "He's intense and a great competitor and while everybody knows he has great hands for scoring, he can also use them well to fight."

 Looks like he might need them for both as this series continues to intensify.


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