It was one year ago this week that the Stanley Cup playoffs began. Eight teams began the second season with diverse expectations. The Red Wings and Avalanche were looking for yet another title. The Canucks were trying to gain some playoff respect. The Flames and Predators were just happy to be there.
I had hoped to write a retrospective of the entire first round, but the other three series are a blur. I have vague recollections of the Predators putting a little scare into the Red Wings before Curtis Joseph came off the bench to push the Wings into the second round. I remember the Blues showing a distinct lack of discipline as they very quickly bowed out to the Sharks. I dont even remember anything of the Dallas Stars. They were that unremarkable in their series against the Avs.
Truth be told, I couldnt care less about those series. No, as a Flames fan there was only one playoff series that mattered. And it wouldnt have mattered if we had lost the series in four games. All that mattered was that after seven agonizing seasons in the Western Conference basement, we were back.
While many in Vancouver were predicting the Canucks would easily go through to the second round in four or five games, we in Calgary were simply enjoying the moment. Just knowing that we were playing in April again put the city in heaven. Even losing the first game was a victory in its own way.
The first playoff game at the Saddledome was surreal. Fans were so excited that the team got a standing ovation when they came out for the warm-up. The zamboni driver received a giant cheer afterward. Simon nearly blew the lid off the building by scoring the first goal. The fans in the 300 sections beating their thunderstix in a cadence that sounded like a war drum.
We all forgot how extreme the emotions are in the playoffs. The elation as the Flames came back from 4-0 down to take game 6 to overtime. The dejection as Brendan Morrison scored in triple overtime to salvage the game for Vancouver. When Matt Cooke scored with 6 seconds left to tie game 7, the entire city just stopped.
Calgary, a city of 1 million people was just too stunned to move.
And then, Chris Cuthberts call:
Heres Yelle, a shot! Auld big. A rebound. Huge! Another! They score! A rebound. And its Martin Gelinas, the former Canuck, and the Calgary Flames will end the Cup curse, and move on to Detroit in round two!
With those words, the Red Mile was born.