The Flames never make it easy on their fans. They managed to blow a 4-1 lead in the space of seven minutes, and were one bad period away from virtually guaranteeing another first round exit, but on the backs of a new top line of Eric Nystrom, Olli Jokinen, and Jarome Iginla, they have made this series up for grabs. It may have been a wild game but the Flames did what they had to, and now it's anyone's series.
The new top line – formed when Rene Bourque was a last-minute scratch – was the number one reason Calgary won this game. Who to start on though? You have Eric Nystrom, who's starting to channel his dad with his knack for big goals (Eric has also been the most consistent Flame in my view for awhile now.) There's Olli Jokinen, who is finally looking a bit like the player he did in the games immediately following the trade. I had said Game 3 was his best as a Flame when he set up Bourque's important goal late in the second; tonight he blew that game out of the water. And of course Jarome Iginla, who channelled his anger from the end of Game 3 in the exact way the Flames needed. He tied the game up on the powerplay, assisted on Jokinen's second goal, and stripped Brent Seabrook of the puck to seal the deal with an empty netter. All three players were gargantuan tonight.
Had things turned out differently in the third, I'd probably be writing a 1,400 word rant right now instead of a 630 word, optimistic blog. It is no mystery to me why the Flames managed to blow a 4-1 lead in the space of 10:11 in the second. It was simply the same reason they blew leads in Games 1 and 2: they let up. This time was undoubtedly the worst, and reiterated a few of my talking points. The Flames stopped hitting the Blackhawks after the 4-1 goal, and couldn't keep up with Chicago's speed as a result. And on the few chances they had to make up the lead they were losing, they tried to get too pretty, attempting difficult passes when they should have just been shooting and crashing the net when trying to go for the jugular. If the Flames can fix these problems, I will like their chances a lot more. And as hopeful as I am right now, the problems clearly still exist and will be a key factor in what is now a three game series.
Those problems aren't the only key factors. Another one in my mind is, can Olli keep it up? He has been great in select games – the last two being his best – but the problem has been him disappearing following these periods of dominance. If he keeps up this play for the next few games, he could well end up being THE difference maker in this series. Another thing becoming a growing factor is the Flames' injuries. Two more hit the deck tonight, with Craig Conroy going down after just 4:38 in ice time, and Daymond Langkow leaving after a nasty looking blocked shot to the abdominal region. The good news is that the Flames have an extra day to rest before Game 5. I can only hope these are day to day.
Having time to nurse injuries is the positive thing for me about Game 5 being not until Saturday. The negative thing is the delay in one of the top three series so far in the playoffs. I truly believe now that it is a new series.
(Unrelated note: I don't know how many people have read my last few blogs, I would appreciate comments if you do read this one though. Just a favor.)
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Written by Alex Hamilton