CALGARY— It was 50/50 whether Michael Ferland would be in the Calgary Flames lineup this spring, let alone inside the Vancouver Canucks’ heads after three games of this series.
But here he is, a bruising, conflicted young role player with one set of orders from his coach, another from his Mom, and a name that is on everyone’s lips in this series. He was a central figure in Calgary’s 4-2 win in Game 3 at the Saddledome, as the Flames jumped to a 2-1 series lead.
“I think he is pretty irrelevant so far,” said defenceman Kevin Bieksa.
Ya, sure Kevin. So irrelevant that Bieksa didn’t wait for Ferland to accept his invitation for a late third period scrap, landing three or four good ones before Ferland could even get a glove off. “Two guys competing down low, and before I knew it we were punching each other,” Ferland shrugged. “It happens.”
Calgary took control of this series in Game 3, emerging from the second intermission with a 2-1 lead and stretching it to 4-1 before a late Jannik Hansen goal. When the game was in the balance, Calgary was far and away the better club.
And Ferland? Here’s a kid who only gets into the lineup because of an injury to Lance Bouma, and now his head coach is sending him out to play against the Sedin line.
Which brings us to Ferland’s conflict.
“They’re great players, and I’m excited for the opportunity the coach has given me,” he began, to a large post-game media scrum. “Just like everyone else I have to get my licks in on those guys. My Mom doesn’t want me hitting those two guys, but that’s my job.”
Wait a sec. Your Mom? “What did she tell you before the series started,” we ask.
“’Leave the Sedins alone,’” he admits. “She loves them.”
Watching from back home in Brandon, Manitoba, mama Ferland clearly has a problem. Because this kid hits everything that moves, and too bad for her, but the Sedins move.
“It’s easy to make those hits with this crowd. I love hearin’ them after every hit. It’s awesome,” he bubbled. “I’ve been up parts of the year, not really havin’ a role and kind of trying to find a spot here. Every game is just another battle to play on this team.”
Ferland is a microcosm of a Calgary team that’s just happy to be here, but is also starting to figure out that they might just be happy to go another round or two as well. Vancouver has all the experience, but in that case they ought to know that the team that wins the physical battles to the extent Calgary won them Sunday almost always wins at playoff hockey.
Bieksa is looking a tad old. Luca Sbisa looks more than a tad scared. And the Vancouver Canucks as a group, well, when the game was in the balance on Sunday night, they simply could not handle the fast, hard-hitting and emotional Flames.
“Combination,” said Bieksa. “They played well, they came hard on the forecheck, but we weren’t as clean. We were a little too spread out. They kept a lot of pucks in on us, we weren’t as clean as last time.”
That’s fair. We’ve seen, over the years, too many playoff series that look to be going one way, turn on a dime. A win here on Tuesday and the Canucks will have reclaimed the momentum heading home.
But that prospect seems a distant dream after Game 3, where the Calgary forecheck was simply too much for Vancouver’s defence to handle.
There’s a decent chance that Alex Burrows — one of the Canucks top two forwards in this series alongside Bo Horvat — could be suspended for incurring an instigator penalty at 18:35 of the final period. Alex Edler’s game was affected by the Flames physical play. Sbisa was a wreck. And we have played 180 minutes of this series, and the Sedins have 1-1-2 between them.
“We had great pressure on their D-men, and lots of traffic on Lack, which seemed to (make him) have a hard time tracking the puck in traffic,” said head coach Bob Hartley. “Defensively, we kept the Sedins quiet. This is not an easy task.”
And, once again, the game devolved into a series of fights near the end, with the Flames in charge. In Game 2, it was Hartley whose lineup choices ignited things. In Game 3, it was Vancouver who was “setting a tone” for the next game with some late game hijinks. Tit for tat — I didn’t see any that was suspension-worthy here.
“It’s a man’s game out there, and that’s the way we want to play it,” said Calgary’s David Jones. “Clearly they don’t like us, and we don’t like them.”
Yes, that’s the way things are supposed to shake down at this time of year.
Someone might have to explain that to Michael Ferland’s mom, though.