Saturday, May 28, 2022

Flames embrace opportunity to finish off Stars at home in Game 7


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It’s Game 7. What more needs to be said, really?

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If you can’t get up for a Game 7, you probably shouldn’t be playing — or watching — hockey.

Would the Calgary Flames have loved to have finished off the Dallas Stars in Game 6 on Friday night? Of course. They’d probably have loved to finish the best-of-seven series in three games, if that was mathematically possible.

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But that didn’t happen.

Instead, the Flames have one last chance to extend their season. One last opportunity to bury the narrative that they can’t win in the playoffs. One final shot at living up to the promise they’ve always believed their group had.

“For guys that haven’t been in Game 7s, it’s time to step up,” said Flames head coach Darryl Sutter. “If there’s guys in this series who haven’t been as productive as they’d like, it’s an opportunity to be a hero.”

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Anecdotally speaking, when the Flames arrived back in Calgary on Saturday afternoon, they seemed far more focused on the opportunity ahead of them than the pending doom and gloom that would follow a loss in the deciding game Sunday night.

There are, to be sure, a couple of factors working in their favour.

For one, they’re back home. The C of Red has lived up to its reputation throughout this first-round playoff matchup and the Flames certainly aren’t complaining about a home-ice advantage.

There’s also the Sutter factor. No coach in NHL history has as much experience behind the bench in Game 7s as Sutter. Sunday’s matchup will be his 11th career Game 7, and he’s gone 7-3 previously. Those seven wins are also the most all-time in NHL history.

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With that in mind, maybe it was unsurprising that Sutter seemed completely at ease on Saturday afternoon.

“It’s just one game,” Sutter said. “You know, there’s a reason there’s Game 7s, it’s because the teams are even, the series is even. (You) just kind of get in the moment and in some ways enjoy it and in other ways step up, too.”

The C of Red has been out in full force during the Calgary Flames’ series with the Dallas Stars.
The C of Red has been out in full force during the Calgary Flames’ series with the Dallas Stars. Photo by Gavin Young /Postmedia

As an organization, the Flames haven’t played in a Game 7 since 2008 when they lost 5-3 in their opening-round decider against the San Jose Sharks.

The core group that management has built around doesn’t have a tonne of experience in games as big as the one that will go down at the Saddledome on Sunday night, but the organization has brought in experienced pieces over the last couple years to help out.

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Milan Lucic is one, and like Sutter, he gave off a laidback, relaxed vibe at the airport on Saturday afternoon.

If there’s any panic about dropping Game 6, the Flames are doing an awfully good job hiding it.

“You obviously know it’s a do-or-die game and from my experience through Game 7s you’ve just got to go out there and play,” Lucic said. “I think the main thing is you’ve gotta make plays, you’ve gotta execute plays, you’ve gotta finish plays and your desire to win and your will to win has to be there and that’s usually what it comes down to in winning a big game in a Game 7.”

That same message was echoed when Mikael Backlund spoke with the media. Yes, it was disappointing that the Flames couldn’t finish off the Stars in Dallas, but they earned the right to have two cracks at clinching the series victory.

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“Just excited, going to be awesome playing in front of the C of Red again,” Backlund said. “We wanted to finish it last night but it is what it is, now we’ve got to come out tomorrow and play our best game so far.”

Since the start of the season, there’s been a sense that the Flames needed to make noise in the playoffs this year. Everyone is well aware of what a loss would mean. It wouldn’t just be the end of the season, but also a wasted opportunity for a talented group to do something special together. The questions about whether the Flames core can make real noise in the playoff would resurface.

The thing about a Game 7, though, is you get to think about what a win might mean, too.

So yes, there’s pressure, but there’s excitement, too.

For a guy like Sutter, that’s not such a bad place to be.

“It’s a quiet place,” Sutter said. “I love that part of the game. Being in the middle of it, I’ve always enjoyed that.” 

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