Sutter answers burning questions

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:33 AM ET

Drafted 30 years ago by the Chicago Blackhawks with whom he played his entire NHL career, Darryl Sutter spent the first two decades of his pro hockey life captaining, coaching or advising the team his Flames are about to face.

In fact, one of his first NHL playoff experiences was at the old Corral where his Hawks bowed out to the Flames their first season in Calgary.

While friends with owner Rocky Wirtz and admittedly nostalgic about returning to Chicago to be part of the franchise's first playoff series since 2002, Sutter's focus is on seeing his team rebound from a turbulent finish to avoid a fourth straight early exit.

"I've got to hate them the next two weeks, but it doesn't matter -- it's a great sports town," said the 50-year-old Flames GM of his former club. "There's nostalgia because I never played for anybody else. They drafted me, never traded me. I was captain, coached and worked there. I was pretty lucky to be there so long."

In a rare, wide-ranging interview setting up tomorrow's series-opening game, Sutter addressed everything from Robyn Regehr's knee and Dion Phaneuf's dedication to the team's late collapse and powerplay woes:

Are you concerned about Dion Phaneuf?

No. I had no intention of him playing in Vancouver, but he flew out there on his own and convinced us he was going to play. After that, I said, 'you're shut down.' It was injury related, but he's had a week of rest now.

When will Robyn Regehr be back?

I honestly can't tell you -- he's two weeks into it and we figured it was a four-week thing. He's had knee injuries before -- it's disappointing. Robyn's got to work his ass off before he gets back. Hopefully, he's able to.

What's your biggest concern heading in -- injuries or the powerplay?

Injuries are always a concern, especially as the playoffs go on. Daymond (Langkow) has been back three weeks and, quite honestly, he shouldn't have played until last weekend. He was still hurt, but that's the kind of guy he is. He's just getting up to speed. We'll see how fast other guys can bounce back.

Do you still think the key to playoff success revolves around defence?

You don't run and gun in the playoffs and be successful. If you give up three goals a game, you're not playing in May. We're 23rd in defence -- that isn't good enough. Our top players have to be plus players.

Why did your team struggle against Chicago this year?

You have to take into account injuries, schedule and officiating. I think they've had a pretty good record against us for several years now. Let somebody smarter than us figure out why.

What are your thoughts on how the team fared down the stretch?

March is a tough month, especially with the schedule we had thanks to the Brier. Our 6-9 record was exactly the same as our home and away sked. Our team has been so dominant at home for four years, so to go 3-3 at home for March hurt. Hey, we had the best record in the NHL in December, January and February when we were healthy. It's not what people say that matters -- they really don't know.

How disappointing was it to lose the division?

I'm thankful we were able to get the fifth seed given what we went through with the defencemen injuries. It's tough after a long trip and losing guys as you go. We still almost got 100 points. We had more wins that Vancouver but the difference all boils down to them having the best divisional record and us being second. The target was to stay away from the big two -- San Jose and Detroit. Let someone else play them first.

Can fan noise at the United Center rival that of the old stadium?

I'm sure they're going to try. But our fans are just as good as theirs. I coached when we moved to the United Center and 19,000 came with us so people aren't just jumping on board now. They've been great fans for a long time.

What's wrong with the powerplay?

It's not something that's just been a recent thing. It's been extremely streaky. When you have that many good players it's not about five great player efforts, it's about the collective.

What's the key to the series?

Nothing is as important as your big players. They've got to take charge of the team, especially on the powerplay.


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