Sutter implemented the system in December 2002, when he was named Flames coach just 27 days after being fired by the Sharks. Even before he could begin transforming Calgary into a younger, faster team, Sutter had to alter its attitude. The Flames had gone seven years without a playoff appearance and 15 years without a series win (since the 1989 Cup finals), and losing had insinuated itself into the marrow of the franchise—a problem much like what had plagued the Eastern Conference finalist Tampa Bay Lightning (page 50). "The first thing I had to do was convince them we weren't a one-man team," Sutter says. "The whole emphasis was on [Iginla]. Unless he scored, we weren't going to be successful. We had to make more people responsible. If two people, Iginla and the goalie, were going to get all the credit or all the blame, how the hell were you ever going to win?"
Not that Sutter ever excuses Iginla, who entered this week tied for the league lead with 13 points. "[ Sutter] might have favorites, but he doesn't play favorites, if that makes sense," G�linas says. "He calls us all out." After Game 1 in Vancouver, Sutter publicly challenged Iginla to step up his game. The captain responded with brio, scoring and hitting and getting entangled in two rare fights, first with Canucks defenseman Mattias Ohlund, who had cross-checked him into the end boards, and later with nasty Red Wings blueliner Derian Hatcher, who basically had been performing surgery on Iginla's calves with his stick. "They take liberties, and he gets mad," Conroy said of Iginla. "You hate to see it, but that's who he is." Conroy figures the over-under on the number of games before Iginla fights Scott Hannan, the Sharks defenseman who hounded the Blues' Keith Tkachuk and the Avalanche's Peter Forsberg in the first two rounds, is three.
Calgary is no longer the mystery guest of the playoffs. And if there were any lingering self-doubts about its place at the table, Sutter's sarcasm brought them into sharp relief during the second intermission of Game 2 against Detroit. He matter-of-factly told the Flames that if they wanted autographs of the Red Wings' future Hall of Famers, he would be happy to arrange it. His players grasped the meaning, quit genuflecting and won three of the next four, Kiprusoff throwing down 1-0 wins in Games 5 and 6.
The next day the Calgary zoo named a newborn Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep Kipper in honor of the laconic goalie. Have you ever had anything else named after you? Kiprusoff was asked.
"Hopefully not," he replied.
But bighorn sheep, a series-opening goal in San Jose from enforcer Krzysztof Oliwa, a game-winner from unheralded defense-man Steve Montador: Calgary takes what it can get. With less than two minutes left in overtime on Sunday and Iginla controlling the puck in the Sharks' zone, Montador, trailing the play, started tapping his stick as he crossed the red line to alert Iginla that he was open. "The way he was banging the stick the whole way up the ice," a grinning Conroy said later, "I thought we were back in peewees. I was afraid he'd break it." Stick intact, Montador blew a wrist shot past San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov. The Flames poured onto the ice, primed for the Big Dance—the prom, if not the Cup final.