CALGARY – Mike Keenan appealed to his players’ pride and captain Jarome Iginla called on teammates to prove the Flames have the depth to stave off elimination from the NHL playoffs despite their injuries.
Those two qualities are required for Calgary to extend its conference quarter-final series with Chicago beyond Monday’s Game 6 (TSN, 9:30 p.m. ET) and to avoid a first-round ousting for the fourth straight season.
The Flames will need every advantage home ice gives them Monday. The battered club is losing the war of attrition to a Blackhawks team buoyant from a 5-1 win Saturday in Chicago that gave them a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
After the game, Keenan blamed himself for not preparing his team better and Iginla, with one shot on net, called his own performance “terrible.”
Keenan shifted the burden of responsibility to his players Sunday.
“The team should be prepared to respond to any situation that arises,” Keenan said. “Be prepared to play to their level of ability and the expectations we have of them and more importantly what they have of themselves.”
Calgary can draw confidence from two previous wins at home this series and a regular-season record of 27-10-4 at the Pengrowth Saddledome. The Flames are hurting, however, which hampers their ability to play the physical brand of hockey that can contain the fleet-footed Blackhawks.
Dion Phaneuf is the latest to join Calgary’s walking wounded. With about eight minutes remaining Saturday, Chicago’s Troy Brouwer levelled Phaneuf after the Flames defenceman unloaded a shot on net. Phaneuf wobbled to the bench and did not return to the game.
Phaneuf didn’t speak to reporters Sunday and Keenan’s assessment of him was “day to day,” which has been the coach’s standard response for any Flames injury this post-season.
The Flames didn’t skate Sunday on their return from Chicago. The Blackhawks cancelled their scheduled practice and headed to Calgary.
Calgary managed just 20 shots on Nikolai Khabibulin in Game 5, partly because of the Flames’ injuries woes up front.
Forwards Rene Bourque, Craig Conroy and Daymond Langkow were in the lineup Saturday, but their fitness is in doubt. Bourque is believed to have aggravated an ankle injury that sidelined him the final 24 games of the regular season. Langkow took a shot off the hand in the third period and Conroy had played just the first period of Game 4.
But Calgary has other weapons in its arsenal that aren’t firing. After a three-point, plus-four Game 4, centre Olli Jokinen had no points, looked lost on two Chicago goals and finished minus-two Saturday.
Mike Cammalleri, the Flames leading goal-scorer with 39 during the regular season, has one goal in five playoff games. Phaneuf, an offensive defenceman whose health was questionable even heading into this series, Curtis Glencross and Todd Bertuzzi have none.
“We do have depth and we do have more depth than we’ve had in a long time and now is the time for it,” Iginla said. “There’s no time for excuses. Hopefully Dion is back and feeling great for next game, but if not, we still need to find a way to win.”
Shutdown Flames defenceman Robyn Regehr (knee) has yet to play this series. Calgary needed his steadying presence in their own end Saturday when the ‘Hawks exploded for three goals in less than two minutes in the first period.
The Blackhawks are trying to win their first playoff series since 1996, which was a four-game sweep of Calgary. The Flames are trying to buck the odds of winning a series they opened 0-2, which the franchise has never done.
The Flames look to the Saddledome’s sea of red that shot that them full of adrenaline in Games 3 and 4 to stoke them again for Game 6.
“We found out how tough it is in Calgary,” Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville said. “That building will be alive again. We know the challenges of going in there.”
As the home team Monday, Calgary has last line change, which should help Keenan pry Iginla’s line away from Chicago’s top defensive pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.
The Flames were expected to be the tougher and more resilient club in this matchup because of their maturity and playoff experience. It’s the Blackhawks, the youngest team in the NHL and one loaded with playoff rookies, who are withstanding the slings and arrows of the post-season.
If Chicago players are hurting as much as some of Calgary’s, they’re not showing it. A Phaneuf slapshot disfigured the finger of Chicago defenceman Matt Walker in the first period Saturday. The Beaverlodge, Alta., native returned to the game and had a team-leading three blocked shots.
When Calgary wins physical battles along the boards, in front of the net and behind the goal-lines, they create space and scoring chances for themselves while neutralizing Chicago’s speed. That didn’t happen Saturday as the Blackhawks dictated the pace and Calgary couldn’t keep up.
“We need to come out with the same kind of fire they came out with against us,” Conroy said.