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Series is even, but not any more predictable

CALGARY -- This might turn out to be a mystery for the ages. Along the lines of Stonehenge, Amelia Earhart's downed Electra and just why on earth Will Ferrell movies are so popular.

"We never said it would be easy," old warhorse Chris Chelios harrumphed the day before.

Now, it's going to be hard. Maybe even hell.

Suddenly, this Calgary-Detroit series is an actual series. A debate, not a debacle. And if you'd publicly predicted that just four days ago, they would have measured you for a sports jacket that ties its sleeves in the back.

"We're back in this," announced Flames captain Jarome Iginla late Thursday night.

And how.

After defiling Calgary for 97 shots and demanding some very personal answers of the wildly overmatched Flames in Games 1 and 2 in Detroit, the Red Wings suddenly find themselves being the ones asked a few pointed questions. Questions about their flickering power play (0-for-6 in Game 4 and a pauper's 2-for-25 in the series); about the snap-ability quotient of their aging, eccentric goaltender; about a No. 1 line (Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom and Henrik Zetterberg) that hit the heights on home ice only to plumb the depths at the Pengrowth Saddledome; about the validity of that "skilled-but-soft" label/compliment/insult people keep throwing in their faces; about whether that first-round playoff ouster by the lightly regarded Edmonton Oilers a springtime ago was just a fluky one-off.

"It's nice for a change," said Iginla, smiling, "not to have everybody asking us what's wrong."

Instead, Flames watchers are babbling about what's right. And, at the moment, they're bringing back memories of the grimy, gritty, greasy, glorious underdogs of the remarkable run three years ago backstopped by arguably the world's No. 1 goaltender, Miikka Kiprusoff.

During the two routs in Hockeytown, they left the unfortunate Kiprusoff to face all the vulcanized rubber.

"Watching those guys diving in front of shots, putting their faces in front of pucks … it's inspiring," Iginla said, shaking his head slowly in tribute. "It's the kind of sacrifice and desperation we need to be successful."

A bit more desperation might be something Detroit's underperforming power play could use at the moment.

"The puck's just not going in the net," lamented Wings coach Mike Babcock. "I thought we pressed [in Game 4]. I didn't think our power play was bad at all in the first two games. I thought it was very poor in Game 3.

"Instead of it building momentum for you, it's building momentum for them because you're doing things you shouldn't be doing, so they end up with energy from the kill."

Meanwhile, the Flames were cashing two power-play goals, both from Daymond Langkow, en route to transforming what seemed a certain blowout into a best two-out-of-three series.

Kiprusoff is clearly winning the high-profile goaltending battle. Not that Dominik Hasek has been horrid. Two goals by Langkow from the lip of the crease and a deflected Craig Conroy shot off a retreating Andreas Lilja's right legs. Hardly indictable evidence.

Still, the Flames have been outshot in this series, almost two-to-one (162-84) over the four games. And yet they're not only hanging around, they're back in the thick of the hunt.

"Kipper's been great the whole series," Iginla said. "But we gave him some help and some offensive support these last two games."

Hasek, meanwhile, is hardly instilling confidence. He had to know the Flames would try to get in his grille, but now it seems obvious they've crept into his head, too. His ridiculous Errol Flynn impersonation, brandishing his stick at Iginla, drew a two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty Calgary used to score its first goal.

"If we're getting to him, great," Iginla said.

At this time of year, so much of hockey revolves around careworn clichés, such as momentum and self-confidence and resiliency. Right now, Calgary has stolen all three of those intangibles for itself.

"That's what the playoffs are about," Babcock said. "Any team that's going to have success at playoff time is going to have some tough times. You don't just get to roll through it because the new CBA makes everybody the same anyway. We're all this much [he held a thumb and forefinger inches apart] difference. So, the bottom line for us to be successful is we're going to have to battle through it and we're going to have to fix our power play."

That's not the only thing in need of quick attention. Shifting the underperforming Robert Lang away from his usual wingers, Kyle Calder and Mikael Samuelsson, and onto a line alongside Todd Bertuzzi and Johan Franzen helped, but the top unit was largely ineffective for a second straight night. And that has to be a worrying sign for the Wings. Zetterberg returned for Game 1 after five weeks off due to back problems, and that initial jolt of adrenaline has worn off.

The one bright spot Thursday was Bertuzzi, a commanding physical presence throughout. He also chipped in with a goal and an assist. Not that the points left him in a particularly good mood.

"We've got to tighten up everything," he muttered in a silent Detroit dressing room.

So far, it's been a homer series, which still favors the Wings. Only the presumptuous few would say the tide has irrevocably turned. But, in a niggling way, it has certainty given way to doubt.

Calgary still is obliged to win a game at The Joe, a chamber of horrors that has seen the Flames peppered for 157 shots in their last three visits, all comprehensive losses. While that might seem a farfetched task, especially after what we saw in the opening two games, by no means is it now a slam-dunk certainty.

"We're playing with more desperation, more discipline," Iginla said. "And Kipper, well, Kipper's Kipper, giving us a chance every night."

Maybe it shouldn't be such a mystery after all.

George Johnson, a columnist for the Calgary Herald, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.