CALGARY - The Calgary Flames have a sense of renewed optimism heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
After suffering a rash of injuries, the Flames faltered down the stretch and watched the Vancouver Canucks pass them to win the Northwest Division. That dropped them from third to fifth in the Western Conference and left them without home-ice advantage in the first round of playoffs.
Despite that, the Flames (46-30-6) are confident that they'll give the Chicago Blackhawks (46-24-12) all they can handle when their series opens with games at the United Center on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET) and Saturday (9 p.m. ET).
"We like the matchup and we're looking forward to it," said Calgary captain Jarome Iginla, even though his team was 0-3-1 against Chicago this season. "We wipe the slate clean.
"Two of the games there were write-offs (a 6-1 loss on Nov. 9 and a 5-2 setback on Jan. 4). That's not us. We believe in ourselves."
Calgary also dropped a pair of home games to Chicago, 3-2 in overtime on Dec. 8 and, most recently, a 5-2 setback at the Pengrowth Saddledome on Feb. 5.
"The teams have changed since we've played them," said Flames head coach Mike Keenan, referring to his team's additions of forward Olli Jokinen and defenceman Jordan Leopold at the trade deadline. "For that reason, I don't put too much emphasis on the games that we played during the course of the season. On a couple of occasions, they were back-to-back games when they were sitting and waiting for us."
Still, Keenan accepted that his team isn't favoured against the Blackhawks, who are returning to the NHL post-season for the first time in six seasons.
"I supposed we are the underdogs because we didn't end up with as many points as they did," Keenan said.
Helping the Flames cause Monday was the sight of defenceman Dion Phaneuf practising with the team. He said afterwards he'll be ready to go for Game 1.
"I'm looking forward to Thursday," Phaneuf said. "I think injuries are part of the game. Every team goes through it in this league. We've battled through it. Now it's a new season. It's exciting to be preparing for Game 1 of the playoffs."
Forward Rene Bourque, who missed the final 24 games of the season with a high-ankle sprain, also returned to the ice and skated on a line with Iginla and Jokinen.
"For the first day back, I was pretty pleased and I felt pretty good," said Bourque, who's looking forward to playing against his former team. "Hopefully I'll get a couple more good days and I'll be able to play on Thursday."
Veteran Flames forward Craig Conroy said it looked like the speedy Bourque hasn't even missed a beat.
"He was flying today," Conroy said. "He did everything just like game speed. To have him back, it's going to be a huge addition with his speed."
Defencemen Cory Sarich and Robyn Regehr, who missed the final six and five games of the season respectively with lower body injuries, both missed practice as did forward Curtis Glencross with an undisclosed ailment. Keenan listed the trio as day-to-day.
"Obviously when you miss two guys like that, it's going to be a bit of a struggle," defenceman Adrian Aucoin said of Sarich and Regehr.
Like Bourque, Aucoin is looking forward to going up against the Hawks, for whom he played in the 2005-06 and '06-07 seasons.
"We struggled the two years I was there," Aucoin said. "It's a completely different team. They're a lot younger, they're a lot faster, they're a lot better. It's going to be exciting."
With the Quad City Flames eliminated from the American Hockey League playoff picture, general manager Darryl Sutter recalled forwards Dustin Boyd, Kyle Greentree, Warren Peters, Brett Sutter and David Van der Gulik along with goalie Leland Irving.
"There are a lot of guys that can play and step in at any time," said Boyd, who's the most likely candidate to be inserted back into Calgary's lineup following a five-game stint with Quad City to finish out the season. "I'm looking forward to a new season. I'm just excited to be back and excited to be a part of it."
Boyd, who scored once in four games against Chicago, said he expects the Flames to put up a good fight against the Hawks, despite their woeful record against their Western Conference rivals in the regular season.
"We know that Chicago's a great team, but we're a great team in here too," Boyd said. "We have a lot of great players. It'll be a heck of a series."