Thursday, April 22, 2004

Game 1: vs. Calgary, 7:30 ET

Tonight is the first game in the Western Conference Semifinals series between Detroit and Calgary. The Flames are coming off their first series win since winning the Stanley Cup in 1989, when ex-Wing Mike Vernon was between the pipes. In addition, the Flames had missed the playoffs in seven previous seasons. Game 7 of the Flames/Canucks series certainly lived up to its hype. With the score 2-1 Flames, the Canucks pulled Alex Auld and, with 5.7 seconds left in regulation, Matt Cooke tipped in the rebound off a Markus Naslund shot, sending the game into overtime. It was a nightmare shift for Jarome Iginla, who missed a chance at the empty net, and tripped over his stick at center ice. But the Hart Trophy finalist had an amazing individual performance outside of that minute of Hell, scoring two goals and assisting on Martin Gelinas' series-winning goal. In dramatic fashion, the Flames won the series with the fastest Game 7 overtime goal in NHL history, 1:25 into the extra session. After a seven game series of intense play, the Flames are a bit wounded. On defense, Jack Adams finalist Daryl Sutter is without Toni Lydman (concussion) and Denis Gauthier (leg/knee). Gauthier will not be available this series, while Lydman remains questionable. In addition, forwards Dean McAmmond (back), Steven Reinprecht (shoulder), and Dave Lowry (abdominal strain) are all out for the season/indefinitely. Chris Simon (knee) is questionable. This is exactly the scenario Wings fans were hoping for, as we debated playing the Avalanche or Flames in round 2. Respecting both teams' talent and grit, it's definitely better to play a worn-down team coming off a seven game series in Calgary, rather than a team who just routed their first round opponent in five games in Colorado. But the Wings can't take the Flames lightly. Captain Jarome Iginla is on fire and Miikka Kiprusoff is in the zone in net. In addition, the Saddledome in Calgary is one of the most intense playoff environments. The Wings will also have to adjust to an increase in travel, with Calgary 1572 miles from Detroit compared to Nashville at 472 miles. And Wings fans will have to adjust to late-night games, with Game 3 (9:00 PM), Game 4 (10:00 PM), and Game 6-if necessary (10:00 PM). But we're an east team in the Western Conference, so players and fans alike are all used to these factors. Coach Dave Lewis is pondering whether he will use four lines to try to wear down the Flames:
"I probably don't make a decision until just before the game."
One thing Lewis will not debate is who to start in net. Cujo was solid last series, replacing Manny Legace in the Wings' Game 4 loss and starting in the Wings' Game 5 and 6 wins. He also boasts a 24-8-3 career record against the Flames. During the regular season, Cujo shut the Flames out 3-0 in the Saddledome on November 4. The Wings lead the season series versus the Flames 3-1. The loss came in the last meeting between the teams on March 16, a 4-1 Flames win in the Joe. Manny Legace allowed 4 goals on 18 shots in the game. Notables: The Wings last played the Atlanta Flames in the 1978 playoffs, winning the preliminary round 2-0. If you are wondering why it was only a two game series, go here and read up on the history of NHL playoff formats. The Wings have 2,191 man games of playoff experience to Calgary's 608, the effect of 14 straight playoff berths....Shanahan and Thomas had Monday off with injuries Lewis described as "little, minor things." Shanahan is likely to start tonight, while Thomas remains questionable. Jason Woolley (back) is also questionable for tonight's game. Everyone remembers the "upper body injury" that sidelined Nashville's Marek Zidlicky, power play quarterback and defenseman. The Tennessean has confirmed it was a concussion, after the crushing Kirk Maltby check in Game 1. Zidlicky on the injury:
"I would feel better, but then after 25 minutes (of exercise), I would feel the same again. It was very serious, my head. I'll just get a lot of rest and go back home."


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