Flames defence corps steps up game
After losing defencemen Rhett Warrener and Dion Phaneuf at different stages of Calgary’s Game 3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings Tuesday night, the effort from the blueline wasn’t lost on the rest of the Flames
by Aaron Vickers
After losing defencemen Rhett Warrener and Dion Phaneuf at different stages of Calgary’s Game 3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings Tuesday night, the effort from the blueline wasn’t lost on the rest of the Flames.
And with key cog Robyn Regehr already out of the lineup, the likes of Andrei Zyuzin and Mark Giordano stepped up in a big way as the Flames earned their first victory of the series.
And not without praise from fellow teammates.
“You know what, guys stepped it up,” forward Craig Conroy said. “Gio especially and Zyuzin, they looked like they were in form. I thought Zyuzin played an unbelievable game. We lost Regehr and Warrener early and Phaneuf kind of late, so you had guys that stepped up and did what they had to do and did a great job.”
The Flames lost Warrener late in the opening frame after taking a point shot off the stick of Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg in the face. In the first minute of the third, it was Phaneuf who was cut above the left eye after taking a punishing hit from Detroit winger Dan Cleary. Both missed significant time getting repaired.
“You’ve got your top guys have to leave for periods of time in the game that the other guys can step it up,” said defenceman Brad Stuart, who logged over 24 minutes in the winning effort. “That’s a good sign of their level of preparation and their willingness to compete so to have that is huge, not only for the team but for the other guys that do have to leave the game for a little bit. They know someone will be there to step up for them.”
Defensive pairings were juggled to accommodate the temporary trips to the locker room by Phaneuf and Warrener.
“It’s something I’ve dealt with before,” Stuart added. “Obviously there are differences between playing left or right side, but I’ve played enough on each to know what those are. There are great defensemen here so it makes it a little easier to make that adjustment.”
The Flames are no stranger to counting on defencemen in the postseason. During their run to the cup, the Flames were forced via injury to use nine defencemen. That lesson wasn’t lost on Conroy.
“That’s what we talked about even before the playoffs,” he said. "It’s a long playoffs and there’s opportunities and there’s going to be chances so everyone’s got to be ready and if you’re not playing, you’ve got to be ready to get in there and when you do, you’ve got to do what those guys did last night.”
What Giordano did was set the stage for some heroics by captain Jarome Iginla.
Down 2-1 in the third period, Giordano scored 4:43 into the final frame to tie the game 2-2. It was his first career playoff goal in his first career playoff game.
“He was right there and the puck came right to his stick,” recalled Alex Tanguay. “The puck went right to him and fortunately for us we had traffic and Hasek didn’t see it. It was a big goal for us.”
The powerplay marker allowed Iginla to put the Flames up for good midway through the third and bring the team to within one game of tying the series at two games apiece.
Conroy admitted he never doubted the abilities of his blueline.
“You trust them. They’re in the NHL for a reason,” he said. “These are the best players in the world. They know what they can do and they definitely feel good about themselves. If they don’t, they should after that game because the whole defensive core was outstanding last night.”
The Flames will be looking for more of the same effort when they battle Detroit in game four of the series, slated for Thursday night at the Pengrowth Saddledome, even if the club should run into more injury troubles.
Let’s just say figuring out defensive pairings won't be a problem, Stuart smiled.
“Whoever it’s going to be, just make sure personally you’re ready to go and everything else will take care of itself.”