Though the expectations weren’t there compared to some years in the past, the Calgary Flames are nearing the playoffs as one of the best teams in the Western Conference. Through 72 games, they own a 44-19-9 record, and they have a comfortable lead in first place in the Pacific Division.
With their team success comes plenty of individual success. With 99 points, Johnny Gaudreau is in the Hart Trophy conversation. Jacob Markstrom has a great shot at being a Vezina Trophy finalist with a sparkling 2.16 goals against average (GAA) along with a .925 save percentage (SV%).
Despite their fantastic 2021-22 season, many are hesitant about this team going deep in the playoffs due to poor showings at that time of the year in the past. What those individuals fail to realize, however, is that this team is built for success in the postseason much better than any other roster general manager Brad Treliving has assembled. Here are three reasons why the Flames are in for a long playoff run.
Sutter at the Helm
Aside from possibly Todd McLellan with the Los Angeles Kings, there is no coach in the league who deserves the Jack Adams Award more than Darryl Sutter. He has completely changed the identity of this team, and it has turned them into a true powerhouse this season.
In recent years, many questioned the will of this group, as it was clear they had the talent but often lacked consistency and at times a sense of urgency. That hasn’t been a problem at all in 2021-22 with Sutter in charge, as this team gives it their all every night and always seems to be structurally sound.
It is clear that this roster has great respect for their head coach, and they are following his systems to a tee. He knows what he is doing, proven by his Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014 with the Kings, and the Flames are lucky to have him. His wisdom behind the bench puts them in a great spot compared to years past.
Perhaps the most vital part of a team having playoff success is great goaltending. The Tampa Bay Lightning have had that in their back-to-back Cup wins in Andrei Vasilevskiy, and the St. Louis Blues were able to win in 2019 thanks to the outstanding play of rookie sensation Jordan Binnington. Safe to say, the Flames have no question marks when it comes to the goaltending department.
As mentioned previously, Markstrom will likely finish the season as a Vezina finalist in what has been the best season of his career. His nine shutouts lead all NHL netminders, and he sits just one shy of Miikka Kiprusoff’s franchise record of 10 set back in 2005-06.
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There is no doubt that the 32-year-old is one of the game’s best, which gives the Flames an advantage over plenty of teams who will be in the playoffs. He is the organization’s best netminder since Kiprusoff, and he gives them a much better chance to go deep than any goaltender they’ve had in recent years.
Best Line in Hockey
While Gaudreau remains the Flames’ top threat offensively, his linemates Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk have been fantastic as well. Both are having career years. The three have been so good together, in fact, that many believe they are the best line in the entire NHL.
The three have combined for 106 goals and 261 points on the season, which is truly incredible. Perhaps even more impressive, however, is that their plus/minus’ total is a ridiculous plus-152. It goes to show that while their offensive contributions have been phenomenal, their play defensively has been just as good.
In past years, Gaudreau in particular has taken plenty of flack for seeming to disappear in the playoffs. While it remains to be seen whether or not that will change this year, there is reason to believe it will. Not only is the 28-year-old playing the best hockey of his career, but he has plenty of other offensive weapons on his team, meaning opposing rosters won’t be able to key in on just him. Their second line, for example, features Tyler Toffoli, a long-time consistent goal scorer at the NHL level, as well as Andrew Mangiapane, who has 30 markers on the season. The support he has means he won’t be relied upon to do all the heavy lifting, which should benefit him in a big way.
Legitimate Threat in the West
At the beginning of the 2021-22 season, most experts believed the team to advance from the West into the Stanley Cup Final would be either the Colorado Avalanche or the Vegas Golden Knights. While the Avalanche remain frontrunners, the Flames have become second in line. The Golden Knights, meanwhile, are currently on the outside looking in when it comes to a playoff position.
Anything can happen in the playoffs, especially with the parity in the NHL today. With that being said, however, the way the Flames have been playing all season long makes it fair to suggest they have as good of a chance as any to go the distance this spring.
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