The Calgary Flames clinched their first berth in the Stanely Cup Playoffs since 2009 last night, and I am HYPED.
It’s been an incredible year to be a Flames fan. All the pundits and even most fans (me included) had them pegged to finish as one of the bottom five teams in the league. This was, after all, the second year of what was supposed to be a long rebuild. We knew the future was going to be good, but this year was going to be rough. Expectations were low, to say the least. The team just wasn’t good enough.
It was one hell of a roller coaster ride. Here’s a recap.
The Flames surprised everyone early with some success. So much so that I, like many fans, allowed myself to be cautiously optimistic. Could the Flames pull of the Cinderella story and somehow make it in the playoffs? For a while it seemed that way.
Then disaster struck. An eight game losing streak reminded me that this was, after all, a team that was in a rebuilding phase. Any hopes of a playoff bid were dashed, as the Flames lost all their footing in the playoff race. They kept losing, and everyone else kept winning. Maybe next year.
But not so. The Flames bounced back from the losing streak in spectacular fashion, with rookie Johnny Gaudreau scoring a natural hat trick in the third period against the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, and capped off the victory with an overtime goal by (in my opinion) the lock for the Norris Trophy, captain Mark Giordano.
From there things started going well for the team again. They played themselves back into contention, thanks to breakout performances by, among others, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Jiri Hudler, Mark Giordano, Dennis Wideman, Kris Russel, Lance Bouma and Mikael Backlund. They were backed by the man who I think certainly deserves the Jack Adams Trophy this year, Bob Hartley. This was a season of great stories for the Flames, but I’ll dedicate that to another post.
For the past month or so, every game was crucial for Calgary. They were in an extremely tight race with 5 (five!) other teams for a playoff spot, including the Vancouver Canucks, the Minnesota Wild, the LA Kings, the Winnipeg Jets and the San Jose Sharks. Not all of the teams ended up in the final race, but that just goes to show how incredibly intense the race was. And through it all, I hoped against hope that the Flames would somehow pull through.
Those hopes took a huge hit when Mark Giordano went down for an injury, and had an early ending to a career (and award-winning) year. He was the backbone of the team, and I was certain the Flames would have no chance without him. I have never been so happy to have been so wrong.
The Flames needed players to step up in big, big ways to fill the shoes of Giordano. Oh, and how they responded. Dennis Wideman went from being a scratch in the second game of the season to having a career year and ending the season with an ‘A’ on his jersey. Kris Russel broke the record for the most blocked shots in a single NHL season. The offense kept doing its thing, the defense stepped up big time, the goaltending was perfect when it had to be, and a couple anxious, nail-biting months later, the Flames find themselves in the playoffs.
Who would have thought that the lowly Flames would clinch a playoff spot by knocking out the reigning champions in the second last game of the season? This season has been absolutely incredible, and no matter what happens in the playoffs, I am proud of this team like I haven’t been proud of the Flames in a long, long time. The future is going to be incredibly bright, as it’s become joyfully obvious that the Flames are going to be a force to be reckoned with not far down the road.
I am exicted beyond words on being in the playoffs. It’s been too long having to suffer through seasons playing games which everyone knows are meaningless. All of a sudden this team has renewed meaning, and the means of pulling it off. Needless to say, I cannot cannot CANNOT wait for the playoffs! Bring on the Canucks, and GO FLAMES GO!