Spring has arrived, and visions of unicorns dancing on rainbows heralding the second coming of Lord Stanley’s Cup to the Stampede City now fire the imagination of fans of the Calgary Flames. So sure of victory are true believers in the team, that City Council has all but finalized plans for a Stanley Cup parade that the good burghers of Cowtown will never forget.
Who could doubt it? Sure, bookies give the Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers better odds of winning the Cup than Calgary, but everybody knows they’re pretty boy teams. They are sure to crumble once they come up against the honest, hard-working lunch bucket crew that Flames general manager Brad Treliving has assembled, led as they are, by hard-nosed head coach Darryl Sutter.
I, for one, am having none of this twaddle. This is the NHL and the Flames are about to embark on a grueling odyssey for a trophy that is the hardest to win in all of professional sports. The dust bin of Stanley Cup history overflows with sure bets who went on to suffer ignominious falls worthy of Icarus.
Before Calgary fans get ahead of themselves, they need to take a look at what they will face in their likely first-round matchups which at this point could be either the Nashville Predators or the Dallas Stars. Flames fans will get a glimpse of these possible playoff tilts in two games this week – one with the Predators tonight, and the other with the Stars on Thursday. The Flames get another crack at Nashville next week.
Calgary Flames are a 2022 Playoff Powerhouse
There’s no question the Flames are one of the teams who should be heavily favoured to hoist the Stanley Cup in June, or at least that’s the way it looks on paper. Even so, Calgary fans lying on their psychotherapist’s couch will recount epic first-round meltdowns in years gone by. Who could forget 2019 when the Flames got an early start on their golf season after being eliminated by the Colorado Avalanche? That year they entered the playoffs atop the Western Conference.
Then there was 2020, when the Flames were shown the door by the Stars after a humiliating 7-3 loss in Game 6. That came after leading 3-1 at the end of the first frame. Further psychological trauma for lovers of the Boys in Red comes from digging into repressed memories of four consecutive first-round exits from 2006 to 2009.
Still, the Flames are now tied for third in the Western Conference and sit atop the Pacific Division. They are said to have the deepest roster in the league, backed up by arguably hockey’s best net minder in Jacob Markstrom, whose dazzling goals-against average (GAA) of 2.22 per game and save percentage (SV%) of .923 strikes fear in the hearts of the league’s most formidable snipers.
If that’s not enough, they have one of the deadliest first lines in the NHL in Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk. They are the reason the Flames average the sixth-most goals per game in the league at 3.55. That complements nicely the team’s impressive GAA of 2.49.
Barring injuries to any key players, and provided they continue to play their crushing brand of Sutter-style hockey, they should prevail over either the Predators or the Stars.
Flames Can’t Take Nashville Predators Lightly
Battling for a postseason berth, the Predators are tied with the Stars for fourth spot in the Central Division with 91 points. With stars like Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene and Roman Josi setting career high points totals this year, the Predators shouldn’t be taken lightly. With five 50-plus point-scorers on their roster this season, they stack up as a top-tier team with a goals-per-game average of 3.18, and a GAA per game of 2.93.
My colleague Shawn Wilken pointed out in a piece he wrote in early March that the Predators don’t have a losing record against the teams in playoff contention in the Western Conference, and have generally kept games close. In this season’s lone matchup with the Flames back in November, they notched a 3-2 overtime victory.
Despite some lapses, the Predators have solid goaltending in Juuse Saros. He ranks second among NHL goaltenders, playing 64 games thus far in the season and notching a SV% of .920 and a GAA of 2.58. While perhaps not the equal of Markstrom, it’s just a shade of grey that separates the two. What’s more, many young goaltenders rise in the playoffs to perform beyond what were believed to be their limits.
If Nashville can continue to score at a respectable pace, and Saros remains solid between the pipes, they could be a handful for the Flames in the first round. What could make them especially dangerous is that after clawing their way into the playoffs, they’ll be playing with Rocky Balboa’s proverbial “eye of the tiger”.
All of this could be a recipe for a first-round upset, especially if the Predators come up against a complacent Flames team that has had a lock on an appearance in the playoffs for months.
Dallas Stars Could Be Flames Killers in 2022 Playoffs
If they meet the Stars in the first round, the Flames face another scrappy team that will be peaking after battling their way into the postseason. This season the Flames split two tilts with the Stars, dropping one in overtime and taking the other by a one-goal margin. Flames fans get to see the rubber match on Thursday.
The Stars have come roaring back in the second half of the season to put themselves into playoff contention. Their top line of Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski is a threat anytime they are on the ice and each is producing at or close to a point-per-game pace. Calgary’s D-Corps won’t find it easy to shut them down.
Yet the Stars are deeper than their top line. Team captain Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin skating on the second line are both closing in on 50-point seasons. Blue liner John Klingberg with over 40 points is a constant offensive threat and is the architect behind much of the Stars’ offense.
Injuries have taken a terrible toll between the Stars’ pipes this season, with starting net minder Braden Holtby out of the roster since early March, and now on long-term injured reserve (LTIR). There’s little prospect of him making a return for the playoffs.
Jake Oettinger, at just 23-years old with only parts of two seasons under his belt, has been the Stars’ starter in goal since Holtby’s injury. He has answered the bell and stolen games for his team in their late season charge to the playoffs. He has registered a SV% of .915 and a GAA of 2.49, and has the ability to frustrate Calgary’s sharpshooters.
The Stars are Flames killers, and as a playoff team are the real McCoy. They won’t role over for the Flames.
Flames’ Path to 2022 Stanley Cup Victory Not Easy
Flames fans expect nothing less that the Stanley Cup being paraded down their city’s streets in June or early July. To deliver that, though, the Cowtown boys face a long and grueling campaign to wrest it from the grasping hands of 15 other teams in the fight.
No series will be easy, not even those with teams such as the Predators and Stars, who at first blush are no match for the Flames. Calgary fans should fasten their seat belts for a postseason filled with thrills, disappointments and harrowing brushes with defeat.
Paul covers the Calgary Flames, the Ottawa Senators and the OHL’s Ottawa 67s for The Hockey Writers (THW). He also hosts the Flames Faceoff show for THW’s Podcast Network.
Paul has been sought for media interviews for the thoughtful pieces he has written on hockey’s response to the major social and political issues of the day including the place of gay players in the game. Paul is also known for his interesting perspectives on the key issues and challenges facing the teams he follows.
Of his work with THW, Paul says, “I love to tell stories about the game of hockey and the personalities – both past and present, who have made it the greatest game on the planet!”
Follow him on Twitter at @pquinney