For just the second time in eight years our boys are in
By Kourtney Meldrum, Staff Writer, and Brendan Stasiewich, Sports Editor
Playoff fever is here for the Calgary Flames, and equally as important, for the C of Red. Having not made the playoffs since the 2014-2015 season, the team (and those about to take part in Red Mile festivities) is hungry for another chance – and they’ve proved it.
After tying a franchise record set by the Atlanta Flames with their ten game win streak, broken after a heart breaking loss to the Boston Bruins on March 15, the team made their push for the playoffs – finally clinching a spot on March 31st against the San Jose Sharks.
The road to get there hasn’t been easy. The Flames started off the season less than favorably.
Perhaps it could be new head coach Glen Gulutzan to thank for the turnaround. His coaching has seemingly changed the Calgary Flames into a team that focuses on playing their game when they hit the ice – a game that has proven to get the job done throughout the last half of the season.
Another possible reason for the turnaround could be alcohol (not the first time booze has made something look better).
After a four game losing streak in January had many ruling the Flames out of playoff contention, Gulutzan mentioned in an interview with the Fan960 that the mood was eerily somber on the Flames train taking the team from Montreal to Ottawa.
Gulutzan exited the train and came back with a tub of beer for him and the team. “Let’s stop losing,” said the Flames coach.
The train ride quickly turned into something out of “The Polar Express” because the team found a touch of magic in those moments. Since the team bro’d out and had some brews with Gulutzan they are 21-6-1.
The Flames have also acquired a handful of players this season that has helped their success. Both Brian Elliot, goaltender pickup from the St. Louis Blues, and winger Matthew Tkachuk, acquired through the draft, have proven essential to their game.
Defenseman Matt Bartkowski (acquired from the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League) and Michael Stone (acquired via trade from the Arizona Coyotes) were added to the roster right before the March 1st trade deadline- bolstering up the Flames defensive core (and most importantly forcing pylon lookalike Dennis Wideman out of the lineup).
Though the Calgary Flames wouldn’t be who they are without Johnny Gaudreau. The little guy (coming in at 5’9’’) is mesmerizing to watch on ice. He skates with both grace and precision, his playmaking skills have proven to be flawless in most cases and his shot is deadly. Do I even have to remind you of his wraparound goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 13? There’s a reason they call him Johnny Hockey, after all.
However the Flames are more than just Gaudreau. Sean Monahan has had an impeccable season (he and Gaudreau are dynamite on the ice together) and captain Mark Giordano has been nothing less than inspiring.
Sam Bennett (the Ryan Gosling of Calgary and the cutest player on the Calgary Flames according to writer Kourtney Meldrum) has not produced the same results on the score sheet as last season, but has proven his worth on the ice from his various fights and level of intensity – scrappin’ Sammy is hopefully here to stay.
The Calgary Flames have proved that they’re playoff ready. All I can say is that the C of Red, and the entirety of Calgary, is ready for the Red Mile to live again this playoff season.
While it would be easy to write forever about our hometown heroes, there are 15 other squads vying for hockey glory this spring, and five of those teams happen to be Canadian.
That’s right, after last years playoffs exclusively featured teams from south of the border, it looks like players from Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton, and the aforementioned Calgary Flames will have to wait at least a few extra weeks before shaking the rust of their golf clubs.
Out of the Canadian clubs, McDavid’s Oilers and Matthews’ Leafs come as the biggest eyebrow raisers.
The freshly opened Rogers Place has turned into a feared building to enter for visiting teams. The young Connor McDavid has solidified himself as a top three player in the NHL and the heavily worked Cam Talbot is proving he wasn’t just a system-led goalie in New York.
Meanwhile, TSN’s favourite team full of young guns are showing they’re not to be taken lightly in Canada’s largest city. With the help of William Nylander and Auston Matthews, Mike Babcock has turned the laughing stock of professional sports into a playoff contender.
The brilliant Babcock has also honed Nazem Kadri’s skills and made him into the top line forward fans thought he would be.
The best of the rest
American teams will once again be the favourite to lift Lord Stanley’s Mug (a feat a Canadian team has not accomplished since the Habs won it all in 1993).
The Metro division has been the best in hockey this year, with the Penguins, Capitals, Blue Jackets and Rangers all soaring past the 100 point mark. In fact the Rangers, who would be leading the Atlantic division, are forced into a wild card spot due to the strength of the Metro.
Meanwhile in the Western Conference the Chicago Blackhawks definitely won’t be a darkhorse going into the postseason. Leading the West, the Hawks are the favourite to go all the way to the finals once again.
Two out of the three California teams are also in the thick of things. The Sharks are looking to get back to the finals for the second straight season, however a recent slump has them limping to the finish line.
The biggest threat to the Hawks, as well as the Oilers and Flames, are the Anaheim Ducks. Much like the Flames, the Ducks rebounded off of an ordinary start to become one of the most dangerous teams in hockey.
Whatever the case, hockey fans are in for a wild (no pun intended) ride in the coming weeks and months. Get some friends together, make your way down to your local establishments (or just find the best spot in your living room) and have some fun watching the best players in the world battle it out.