Through the first three games of their play-in series versus the Winnipeg Jets, the Calgary Flames find themselves in a great spot, up two games to one. With the play-in series being just a best-of-five, they need just one more win to advance and will get the chance to do so Thursday night. Given that both Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine are banged up, along with the Jets’ very inexperienced back end, the Flames have a great chance to close out this series. However, in order to do so, their star players need to elevate their performance, which they haven’t been able to do in years past.
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Guys like Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mark Giordano, and even Matthew Tkachuk have struggled in the playoffs to this point in their career. Both Tkachuk and Monahan described themselves as being “embarrassed” after last year’s exit, which saw them lose in just five games to the Colorado Avalanche, despite leading the Western Conference with 107 points.
The Blame Squad
The three main players who have been talked about by fans for disappointing in the playoffs throughout their careers are Gaudreau, Monahan, and team captain, Giordano. It certainly appears to be a fair critique from fans, as Gaudreau’s Game 1 goal versus the Jets was his first playoff goal since 2015.
In fact, coming into this year’s playoffs, he had just three assists in his last nine playoff games. In large part due to his poor play, the Flames won just one game combined in the 2017 and 2019 postseasons. Early on in this year’s playoffs, he has looked better with two goals and three points in three games.
While Monahan hasn’t struggled as much as Gaudreau in the playoffs, he has still failed to elevate his play when the team has needed it the most, and Flames fans have certainly noticed. Last year’s playoff series against the Avalanche saw him put up just two points in five games, and had fans questioning whether him and Gaudreau were the players to lead this team to a Stanley Cup. Like Gaudreau, he has been better early on, with one goal and four points in three games.
After a fantastic Game 1 for Giordano, he has struggled at times in this series. Unfortunately, it is not the first time he has struggled to find his game in the playoffs. The 2018-19 Norris Trophy winner has just 1 goal and 5 points in 16 career playoff games, which is extremely disappointing given the solid numbers he posts during the regular season. While it remains very early, he has not been at his best this series.
While the three listed above are the ones who have gotten the main backlash from fans, it doesn’t mean they are the only ones who have struggled. While he has not played in nearly as many postseason games and is still very young, Tkachuk has also failed to be the same impactful player he is during the regular season.
After a career-high 77 points during the 2018-19 season, he put up just two goals and one assist in five playoff games. He was also unable to tally a single point during his first playoff experience in which the Flames got swept in the first round. However, he was just 19 years old at the time. So far in this series versus the Jets, Tkachuk has only been able to put up one goal in three games. He is this team’s best player and needs to play like it if they want to go on a deep run.
The other star player for the Flames who struggled in the 2019 playoffs is Elias Lindholm. The 2018-19 season was his first with the team, as he had been acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Carolina Hurricanes. His regular season with the team was fantastic, as he set career highs with 27 goals and 78 points.
However, like many of his teammates, he was a non-factor in the playoffs, putting up just one goal and one assist in five games. Given that it was his first time in the postseason, he got less critique from fans than the team’s other stars, and has been better this series with two goals and three points.
The Flames also have some players like Mikael Backlund and Andrew Mangiapane who are capable of putting up secondary offence, but if their stars play like they have in previous playoff series, that won’t make a difference. This year’s postseason feels extremely important for the Flames, even more so than others. Given the team’s struggles to put it together when it matters most, there could be some big changes coming to the roster if they aren’t able to go on a bit of a run this summer.
Early on, players like Gaudreau, Monahan, and Lindholm, have been pretty solid, while Giordano and Tkachuk have both had some struggles. However, there is no doubt that all of them are capable of playing at a higher level than they are right now. In order to win in the playoffs, players have to elevate their games. To this point, this team has not been able to do that, but they have a great opportunity to change that narrative this summer.