When push came to shove Tuesday night at the Arrowhead Pond -- and it often did for the home team -- the Mighty Ducks were wearing ice shavings on their backs, battered into submission, and the Calgary Flames were listening to Johnny Cash's inimitable version of "Ring of Fire," wearing the satisfied expressions of winners.
The Flames wasted no chance to send messages that were as obvious as the flaming "C" on the front of their uniforms. Want to go to the net, Andy McDonald? You'll have to pay for it with a mouthful of dasher board.
Want to try to protect a teammate, Vitaly Vishnevski? Go ahead, but know that afterward, you'll be driven to your knees.
By the end of the Flames' 5-2 victory at a quick-to-empty Pond, the Ducks' bruises matched the eggplant-purple color of their uniforms.
The Flames left the imprint of their sticks and gloves on the Ducks' necks and shoulders and psyches. Officially, the Ducks had 14 hits to the Flames' eight. Unofficially, in the hits after the whistles and along the boards, the Flames were the clear winners.
Muscle beat speed. Tenacity beat talent.
"That's the way we like to play. That's our style," Flame winger Jarome Iginla said after the Flames took a 2-1 lead in the first-round playoff series.
"We're about wanting to be in your face. We want to be aggressive. That's how we play this game."
They play it hard and tough by habit and they played it relentlessly Tuesday, a classic example of the style that served them so well in winning the Northwest Division and becoming the No. 3-seeded team in the West. They left the Ducks no room to operate in the slot and no rebounds to poke or prod past Miikka Kiprusoff; both of the Ducks' goals were produced during power plays and both were 50-foot slap shots by Francois Beauchemin.
"We have to go to the net and pay a price," Duck defenseman Scott Niedermayer said.
"They have a good defense and a great goalie and they play hard. It was like the first two games."
No, it wasn't.
The first two games were close until the final buzzer, a 2-1 overtime victory by Calgary in the opener and a 4-3 triumph for the Ducks in Game 2. The Flames simply claimed Tuesday's game as their own during the third period, when they again flexed their muscles on the power play.
Darren McCarty's goal at 4 minutes 59 seconds, on which he turned the corner and walked in alone to beat Jean-Sebastien Giguere, was not listed on the scoresheet as a power-play goal because it was scored as Jeff Friesen's needless high-sticking penalty expired. But Friesen hadn't gotten back into the play, so it was in spirit, if not in word, scored with a man advantage.
Robyn Regehr's power-play goal, scored on one knee, symbolized the Flames' determination.
"A series is won in the corners and in front of the net," Regehr said. "We won those battles tonight. We had fun out there."
For the Ducks, it wasn't as much fun watching the Flames regain home-ice advantage.
"We went out today and thought, maybe, that it would be a bit easier than it was," Niedermayer said. "We were home and we'd won one up there....
"They're a good team. They've been through the playoffs. They know what it takes."
It obviously takes more than the Ducks could give Tuesday, especially their penalty-killing unit.
"I don't know exactly what it was," said Sammy Pahlsson, whose T-shirt didn't quite hide the ice pack that was strapped to his midsection, a souvenir of some battle or other. "We have to pay attention to detail. I'm not sure what went wrong, but we were doing something wrong if they scored four goals."
That qualifies as the understatement of the night.
As much as the Ducks did a litany of things wrong, the Flames did more things right.
The Ducks did score twice on the power play, ending an 0-for-12 streak with the man advantage, but the Flames never trailed Tuesday and never lost their poise or their purpose. And Duck Coach Randy Carlyle, to his credit, rejected the suggestion that the power-play production was a positive element to be taken as consolation.
"It's always important to score on the power play, but so did they," he said. "They scored more than we did."
Scored more, hit more, saved more. And won one more.
"It was about the whole package," Coach Darryl Sutter said in a rare bit of praise for his team.
Whether the Flames have the energy to play this ferociously again Thursday will determine if the Ducks' playoff appearance will be merely a cameo or a lengthy engagement.
"Is it the end of the world? No. They're up, 2-1, in the series," Carlyle said.
"The bottom line is we have to prepare ourselves for more of a team effort than what we got from our group tonight."
The team with the effort Tuesday was, without a doubt, the Flames.