Flames grit and bear it

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 5:11 PM ET

 Edgy, intense and certainly emotional.

 But don't call this first-round NHL playoff series between the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks nasty.

  At least not yet.

 "I don't think it's nasty," said Flames defenceman Rhett Warrener, a veteran of two Stanley Cup final series. "It's playoff hockey, pretty simple. Everyone wants to win and everyone's doing what it takes to win. And that's the way it should be."

 Sure, there's been a high volume of traffic around the net. Around both nets, in fact, despite the whining of Canucks fans.

 The tempo's been jacked up.

 So, too, have the on-ice verbal volleys.

 And the hits just keep on coming with the teams now set for Game 3 tonight at the Saddledome.

 But aside from what the players consider the usual assortment of barbs and bumps, including Dan Cloutier's post-game slash to the back of Marcus Nilson's leg in Game 1, familiarity has yet to breed the kind of contempt that can turn a fierce battle into an ugly war.

 Thanks in part, say the Flames, to the series' officiating.

 "I don't think it's getting nasty," said Flames defenceman Ference, despite looking the worse for wear with swollen eyes, a fat lip and a nasty stitched cut over his lip after getting hit by a puck and a Matt Cooke high stick in Game 2. "Because if you get too nasty, you're going to get a penalty.

 "You know ... there's been a lot of calls out there. If you look at years past, you can get away with a lot and it can escalate that way. But as soon as you start to get on the edge of a penalty this year, they're calling it and that seems to be the case around the whole league. So I think guys are definitely going to use their heads a lot more in these playoffs than in years past just because of the consequences of putting your team down."

 Sure, Ed Jovanovski got away with one non-call -- on admission by the referees -- with a knockdown of goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff that put the Canucks on the board in Game 2.

 But apart from that, it's been a series the Flames can live with from the officials' point of view.

 "I think it's been fairly consistent," Warrener said. "If you have that, there's not much else you can ask for one way or another. At least you know what they're going to call."

 Truth is, the officials have let the two teams play hard-nosed hockey. Of the 34 penalties called so far in the series, only three have been roughing minors. The rest have been either stick-related penalties, obstruction and interference -- all a target of intense criticism in today's NHL.

 "I think it's a readjustment for the guys, because the league seems to do that sometimes," Warrener said. "They're laying down the law for the stick infractions -- the hooking and holding the stick and stuff. But around the net and in the corners, they're letting us battle."

 The physical stuff, however, is fair game -- perhaps providing the Flames with an important edge in a tied series coming home.

 "It's playoffs -- it should be physical," added Flames forward Chris Clark. "But I've definitely seen it more physical than in games I've watched in the past.

 "So it could definitely be stepped up a bit toward that. And I think we're the team to do that. I don't think they're going to want to step up the physical aspect of it.

 "They want a nice clean game where they can flow.

 "And it's definitely a price to pay, because it's definitely worth it."

 - - -

 SERIES TIED 1-1 GAME 3 TONIGHT

 IN CALGARY, 7:30 P.M., TV: CBC, RADIO: FAN 960


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