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5 things to watch for as Flames look to eliminate Stars in Game 6

DALLAS – The Calgary Flames have a chance to do something Friday night they haven’t done in seven years: win a series.

While it doesn’t seem like that monumental a task, just ask Leafs or Oilers fans how elusive it can be.

Since the Calgary Flames won the Stanley Cup in 1989 they’ve only been past the first round twice, which is why Darryl Sutter reiterated again Friday morning, “It’s not something that’s easy to accomplish.”

Nine players in Calgary’s lineup have yet to win a playoff series in their career, which could change with a Game 6 win at American Airlines Centre Friday.

“Big opportunity for a lot of guys in our locker room – a lot of guys haven’t been to a point like this in their career and it’s exciting,” said Johnny Gaudreau, who has only been part of one series win, which was with the Flames’ 2014-15 team under Bob Hartley.

“It’s hard ending a team’s season. They’re going to be fighting extremely hard.”

As will he, which is evident by the uncharacteristic number of hits he’s taken thus far in a series in which he’s also bounced back from an illegal check to the head, as well as a puck to the face in Game 5.

“Right in the jaw,” said Gaudreau, shrugging it off.

“I’m playing against those two big guys, (Jani) Hakanpaa and (Eas) Lindell, two really big defencemen, so any chance they get a chance to put the body on us they do. It’s been tough at times, but I’m happy with how our team and line have played and we have a great opportunity.”

Gaudreau’s line played without Matthew Tkachuk on it at times in Game 5, as Sutter shuffled his lines to land Tkachuk on the third unit for a good chunk of time.

After the game he said he didn’t like the pace of the team’s top trio, so made the change.

“Those young guys are still learning and he is one of them,” said Sutter Friday, when asked about the 24-year-old Tkachuk.

Adjusting lines

The Flames and Stars both skated Friday morning with the same forward lines as they started last game, which doesn’t mean a ton as both coaches are quick to change lines mid-game.

The Mikael Backlund, Andrew Mangiapane, Blake Coleman combo responsible for the team’s third-period comeback in Game 5 will almost certainly be resurrected if the Flames need a goal or a jolt of some sort.

Sutter’s game management is as legendary as his ability to prepare players, but even he admitted his preparation changes in the playoffs.

“First of all, you have to have a game plan for the series,” said Sutter.

“You have to be able to adjust during the series, meaning you have to be able to adjust in terms of strategy and x’s and o’s, but also have to adjust to how players are playing too, and that’s probably the biggest one.”

How long does it take him to know when a player is ready for a game?

“Fifteen seconds… or less,” he said.

Sutter: Well-oiled sound bite machine

Sutter is certainly still on his game in terms of providing great sound bites.

Asked how his team has responded to the hostility on the road, he quickly jumped in.

“First of all, it’s exciting because there are fans,” he said.

“That’s the best part. I don’t care if they’re throwing beer on you or calling you whatever.”

“I still don’t get guys who pay $12 for a beer and then throw it on you. Or pay $40 for a hat and throw it on the ice. I don’t get that one. For $12, drink it.”

Would love to know how many U.S. arenas he could find a $12 beer.

Oettinger relishing the challenge

Jake Oettinger has been the talk of the series with his ability to keep the Flames at bay with a .956 save percentage and 1.63 GAA, but Sutter insists the 23-year-old’s play shouldn’t surprise anyone.

“He was 30-15 in the regular season and nobody talked about it before the series started,” said Sutter.

“Their MVP in the regular season. That’s a pretty remarkable record. If you hit 30 wins in the NHL you’re top 10.”

Still, Jacob Markstrom has out-battled Oettinger, with a .952 save percentage and 1.21 GAA to lead the series 3-2.

Given how much the Flames netminder seems to be taken for granted, Sutter was asked if Markstrom was his team’s MVP in this series. 

“When it’s over you’ll have one,” said Sutter.

“Maybe we’ll go to game seven and triple overtime and then you’ll say (the game-winning goal scorer) is the series MVP.”

Fair enough.

Asked about his goaltending revelation, Stars coach Rick Bowness chuckled.

“I sent him a text last night and what I really like about Jake right now, is he’s loving this,” he said.

“He’s loving the challenge. He’s enjoying it and that’s what you want to see with your athletes. This is the playoffs, it’s exciting. We gave him the ball and he’s running with it.”

Goals would help

Asked what he needed more of from long-time Flames killers Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, Bowness was blunt.

“Goals would help,” he said.

“Really, they’ve got to create more offence. We need to score more goals. Markstrom has been outstanding. You can see why he’s a Vezina nominee.”

“We’ve got to put more pucks on the next and not pass up shooting options, which we’ve done.”

Is Seguin ailing?

“After 5 games of play if you’re not banged up a little bit you’re not playing hard enough,” said Bowness.

“That’s the reality of playoff hockey against a big team like they have. If something is not sore you’re not sticking your nose in where you should be.”


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