Feelin' good

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 5:08 PM ET


 The Calgary Flames awoke yesterday to a brand new world.

 At least, nothing the last seven editions of the team have experienced at this point of the NHL schedule.

 The playoffs have arrived.

 "It feels different," said Flames assistant captain Craig Conroy, all smiles after the club's first practice of the post-season yesterday at the Saddledome.

 "This is what it's all about. You come here and the matchup is there. You're going over their team. You're scouting. It's hard to sleep. You're laying in bed thinking about it."

 "I'm excited," added teammate Denis Gauthier, poised to make his playoff debut in his seventh NHL season. "You could feel the buzz a bit on the ice in practice -- a different kind of vibe going on in the dressing room and on the ice. The tempo was up and you could tell the guys were a little excited, kind of itching to get going."

 Yet, true to the teachings of GM/head coach Darryl Sutter, who was his usual no-nonsense self yesterday, the elation of the moment was capped by an even-keeled sense of responsibility.

 There's business at hand.

 So it's business as usual.

 In fact, yesterday was not much different than the everyday grind of the post-season pursuit.

 "No, not that much," said Flames captain Jarome Iginla. "On the day of the game, I'm sure we'll be very excited and very nervous. But now we've been preparing for a lot of games lately and while we know this is bigger, it's still along the same lines."

 "Right now, we're very focused," added Conroy.

 "We go into a meeting, go over their team and see what their strengths are and what their tendencies are. We don't want to overhype it because that's something bad you can fall into if you make it too big."

 Make no mistake about it, it is big. Especially for the dozen players, including nine original Flames, suiting up for their post-season premiere.

 And really it's no different for the veterans who've gone a few years without participating in the big dance. Heck, it's been eight springs since Iginla played his only two playoff tilts for the Flames.

 "That was a totally different situation," said Iginla, recalling his Flames debut during the 1996 playoffs. "I just came in (from Kamloops) on the same day we were going to play a game. There was no preparation or media or buildup or anything like that. They said I was playing on the same day I flew in.

 "And a lot of it I don't even remember. I don't remember what the day between games was like.

 "It was like a whirlwind."

 Truth is, yesterday felt like a whirlwind at the 'Dome.

 It was a bustling day around the rink, with talk focused entirely on hockey.

 And there was additional bounce in everyone's step.

 Throw in the extra throng of media and it's evident the playoffs have returned.

 "Every game has felt like a playoff game lately," Gauthier said. "But now the real season starts.

 "But still it's another one of those seven-game segments that Darryl got us thinking about during the year. Now it's Game 1 (tomorrow and we got to win four out of seven again, so it's not a different mentality for us at all."

 Besides, they'd rather not break from the routine of what got them here. After all, they don't want to blow the chance they've been afforded after seven suffering seasons.

 No sense just being happy getting to this point.

 "No way," said Gauthier. "We've worked hard to get here -- it's been a long, tough season."

 "This feels good," Iginla added. "But at the same time, it's business, too."


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