CALGARY — The battered Calgary Flames limped down the home stretch of the regular season and they hobbled out of the post-season Monday night in much the same way.
The Flames were eliminated from their opening round Western Conference series with the Chicago Blackhawks, losing Game 6 4-1 in home ice.
Without defencemen Robyn Regehr (knee), Dion Phaneuf (broken ribs) and with Cory Sarich playing with a fractured foot, the Flames could not keep up with the young, exuberant, skilled Blackhawks team that finished just eight points back of the perennial Central division-winning Detroit Red Wings.
“Say what you want, these players tonight worked as hard as they could but two things happened, the attrition erodes your confidence a little bit and they’re smart, bright people. They know there’s a difference (missing your top players),” said Calgary coach Mike Keenan. “No disrespect to the players coming in but you’re talking about significant players in this league, not just this team.”
Although the separation between Calgary and Chicago during the regular season was a mere six points and they were even with 46 victories apiece, the playoff series proved another story.
While the injuries were piling up in the Flames training room, Chicago iced the same line-up for all six games with the exception of game three when Patrick Kane sat out with the flu.
“This was a close series and if we have Robyn Regehr in this series and Cory Sarich healthy — he played with a fractured foot, and now Phaneuf. That’s three top defencemen out. Take three, or even two of their top defenceman — take (Duncan) Keith and (Brent) Seabrook out, and it’s a different series,” Keenan said.
“Attrition is part of playoffs and it’s just unfortunate that we got very bad breaks in that we literally ended up with breaks.”
Also injured for Calgary was Daymond Langkow, who entered the playoffs nursing one bad hand that cost him nine games late in the season. Then, in game four, he took a shot off the other hand.
Rene Bourque’s health was also questionable after he missed game four after aggravating a sprained ankle that cost him the final 24 games of the regular season.
“It’s cliche to say there’s no excuses but sometimes there’s a reason,” said Keenan.
Not being able to see his club at its full potential goes down as Keenan’s biggest regret.
“It’s really disappointing because I thought we had a lot of positive growth with our players during the regular season. Then the final three weeks of the season, we really got decimated and the attrition grew as the playoffs went on in terms of healthy people,” he said.
In 19 seasons since hoisting its only Stanley Cup in 1989, Calgary has reached the second round only once — a run to the Stanley Cup final in 2004 when it lost to Tampa Bay in game seven.
The other 10 times they’ve reached the post-season, they haven’t got out of the first round including first round exits each of the past four seasons to Anaheim, Detroit, San Jose, and now the Blackhawks.