Cinderfellas

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 2:33 PM ET


 Skeptics, and there are plenty, might snicker upon seeing a dreamy photo of the Stanley Cup adorning one wall of the Calgary Flames dressing room.

 What right, they wonder, do these guys have fantasizing about such a lofty target after sliding into the NHL playoffs in the final week of the season and, in the process, snuffing out memories of seven seasons of horror stories and April tee times?

 But three men wearing Flames colours, who harbour Cup aspirations, think they have the answer.

 They've been there before, winning over the naysayers by converting Cup pretenders into contenders and aspire to do the same this spring with 20 men wearing the Flaming C.

 "I've learned by being there that you don't need to have eight or 10 superstars to win, you just have to have a team that's confident and believes in itself and is willing to work," points out defenceman Rhett Warrener, who made surprising Cup final appearances with both Florida (1996) and Buffalo ('99) before his trade to Calgary last summer.

 "I think both times I've been there, we've been the team that was the hardest working.

 "Of course, goaltending is huge, too. But (this year's Flames) wouldn't have gotten here had we not had good goaltending to this point. It's huge."

 Warrener said successful playoff teams not only trot out the old 'one game at a time' cliche for TV sound bites.

 The 20 guys in the room really take the tired old adage to heart.

 "You go into a series thinking, 'OK, we're playing this team and here's what we have to do to beat them,' " Warrener explains.

 "If we do this, we win, if we don't do it, we lose. You don't go into the playoffs saying, 'Oh, we're going to win the Stanley Cup.' The two teams that I played with didn't. We went in thinking. 'Beat this team, win tonight's game.' It's a boring cliche but it's just the way it is.

 "You can't win the series if you don't play that way. You can't win the Cup if you don't win the first round.

 "You cannot ever start thinking too far ahead. That's one of the things you do learn, even when you're up 3-0 in a series. You're so concerned about losing the fourth game and letting the other team get momentum, you're scared of it. You don't want the other team to get a taste of momentum or confidence."

 Warrener argues the fleeting nature of a best-of-seven series, with its inherent quirks and shifts in momentum, makes it possible to thwart any opponent.

 "It's not an 82-game season. It's just a seven-game series and you have to go out and win four of them and it starts with the first one. That's all you're concerned about," Warrener says.

 Flames left-winger Martin Gelinas, who went to the 2002 Cup final with overachieving Carolina, has seen firsthand how teams succeed in the playoffs.

 "I've learned in the past, although you might not be a premier team in the league, you can make a lot of good things happen out there," Gelinas says.

 "Carolina was an example of that.

 "We weren't the favourites by any means but we went out there and built some momentum and made it to the finals, so anything can happen in the playoffs."

 Nineteen-year veteran forward Dave Lowry was also with the Panthers during their miraculous Cup run of '96.

 He suggests the Flames players who've been through the playoff wars can help the club's youngsters achieve their post-season potential.

 "We've got some guys who've won the Cup and know how hard it is to get there, realize how hard it is," Lowry says, pointing out the playoff atmosphere surrounding the Flames' games down the stretch simulated post-season pressure.

 "Our young guys are realizing it's a huge, huge commitment. You have to play every night and you look at the race in our conference, every game is important.

 "We realize it takes the full schedule to get to where you want to be and every game has been important all year.

 "It's something you start working towards in training camp and when you realize the regular season is long and there's a lot of games, it's all worth it in the end."

 Especially if you answer the critics by bringing that same Cup photo into focus by making the dream a reality.


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