CALGARY - Craig Conroy couldn't believe the secret got out. But when more than a dozen Flames came bounding off a charter bus and through the Saddledome security gate for practice Wednesday morning, it was apparent the team had sequestered itself before Game 6.
Though 8-2 and undefeated in four in a row on the road in these playoffs, the Flames are 3-5 at home, winless against San Jose and willing to try anything to clinch their first Stanley Cup final berth since 1988-89.
"We're hiding," Conroy said, laughing. "I knew this would get out, but hey, it's a one-shot deal. Pretend like you're on the road. See what happens."
While the Lightning has mandatory hotel stays at home during the playoffs, Flames coach Darryl Sutter has given players the option and jokingly suggested a "sleepover" for Tuesday night. Conroy, Jarome Iginla, Robyn Regehr and others decided to seek other accommodations.
"I know from doing it myself, some guys want to, need to be alone," Sutter said. "Everybody's different, so I don't get too involved in that."
PREVIEWS: Sometime after the team dinner and what Iginla deemed "team bonding," the Flames sneaked a look at Game 5 of the East final, won by the Lightning 4-2. "I saw it was 3-0 and turned if off," Conroy said. "I came back to find it was quite a game. (Philadelphia) had some chances, man, (Simon) Gagne right in front of the net." Conroy didn't offer any hints as to which team he would rather play. Either team would represent the fourth consecutive division champion Calgary has faced. Calgary lost to the Lightning 6-2 on Jan. 24 but won 3-2 in overtime at Philadelphia on Dec. 16.
TOUGH GUY: Every championship hopeful needs at least one player willing to, without hesitation, throw himself in front of a 100 mph slap shot, certain the reward of hoisting the Stanley Cup above his battered body will make it worthwhile.
Center Stephane Yelle, a two-time champion with Colorado, is that guy for Calgary. The 30-year-old has two goals, four points and dozens of unofficial blocks. In one sequence in a 3-0 win in Game 5 on Monday, he flopped in front of one shot, recovered, skated to the opposite faceoff circle and slid to snuff another.
"Some guys talk about it and can't do it, and some can't talk about it and can do it," Sutter said. "He's a throwback player. He's a classic."
HARD WORK: Such effort is rewarded in the Flames locker room with a green construction helmet with the Flames logo above the brim. Right wing Chuck Kobasew currently has the prize.
"There's a lot of guys in this locker room who are not first-star material," Flames defenseman Andrew Ference said. "You have guys like Stephane Yelle blocking shots, guys taking hits to get the puck out. There are a lot of little things that go into the style of game we play that go highly unnoticed by people. So the fact that the guys who really respect those kinds of plays and those type of players - your teammates - reward you. It's really just a really nice "thank you' for putting your butt on the line."