Bust out the clichés. The Calgary Flames are one loss away from an end to their post-season.
After a disheartening finish to a wild Game 4 and a 3-1 series deficit, the Flames headed home to prepare for a challenging task. Fending off the Edmonton Oilers three times in a row is the only way to advance to the Western Conference final for the first time since 2004.
It’s that time of the year. The anniversary of sports cliches, born of these elimination situations.
Calgary Flames winger Milan Lucic offered a good chunk of them in one breath on Wednesday from the Saddledome.
“Our backs are against the wall, in the corner, up against the ropes,” Lucic said, rapid-fire. “It’s up to us to see what we’re made of and go out there and play our game for 60-plus minutes, if that’s what it takes, to give ourselves a chance to stay alive.”
Phew. Glad to get those out of the way.
But clichés came into existence because there are only so many ways to describe the circumstances the Calgary Flames now find themselves in. It’s a daunting task. The pessimistic view encapsulates the big picture. The Oilers only need to win one of the three games remaining to end the best-of-seven series. Which means the Flames must win three in a row to avoid an end to their season.
To remain positive – to believe they still have a shot – the Flames have to take the bite-sized approach. We’ll throw out the one-game-at-a-time cliché here.
“Gotta win a game, plain and simple,” Lucic summarized. “Mentally, that’s where you can get yourself in trouble. In order to win three games, you’ve got to start off winning one game.”
With so much outside chatter all season long about streaks – winning, losing, points, goals, assists, shutouts – it’s hard to imagine the weight of what lies ahead not crushing the Calgary Flames players.
Especially those who are experiencing their first foray into the second round of the playoffs, or first taste of the post-season, period.
But head coach Darryl Sutter suggests keeping focus on the next game, and only the next game, is the easiest part.
“It’s a very tight mindset,” Sutter said Wednesday. “That’s the easiest thing to do.”
Sutter should know. He’s been there as a player and as a coach. During his most recent Stanley Cup run, his Los Angeles Kings lost their first three games to the San Jose Sharks in the first-round in 2014. A comeback of epic proportions saw them win four straight, then claim two more series in seven games before winning the Stanley Cup in five games over the New York Rangers.
The Calgary Flames bench boss said this week that his experience offers his players “some composure, understanding” of these situations.
Lucic does as well. His Boston Bruins pushed to Game 6 after falling behind 3-1 to the Montreal Canadiens in his first year (2008). Same against the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round the following spring. Lucic was on the wrong side of a 3-0 series comeback when the Philadelphia Flyers won four straight against the Bruins in 2010.
He knows anything is possible when it’s “do-or-die” and you’re “desperate.”
This year’s Calgary Flames can look to their Game 7 overtime win over the Dallas Stars as an example.
“We’re going to need the same desperation we had in Game 7 against Dallas. What I said before that game we’re gonna need big plays from big players,” Lucic said. “That’s what we’re going to need.
“We’ve been a good home team all year long. We’ve got to rely on our home game and how we’ve played at home. And rely on our fans coming and cheering us on and having our backs and go from there.”
One game at a time.