A few seasons ago, the Calgary Flames had a problem.
Faced with an aging core anchored by Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff, the club repeatedly pushed their chips to the center of the table and went “all-in” for a playoff push. Several of their attempts at playoff glory – or even a playoff berth – failed, and eventually the team cut bait and began a rebuild.
Now, as they return to the post-season for the first time since the 2008-09 season, they’re matched up against a Vancouver Canucks club in a familiar situation – both in a historical and present-day sense.
In a few ways, the Canucks are where the Flames were a few seasons ago. Instead of an aging Iginla and Kiprusoff, they have the Sedin twins, who are getting on in years and are still without a Stanley Cup. Like the Flames did, the Canucks are seemingly attempting to cash in on the remaining hockey left in the Sedins by bringing in some free agents in addition to a new coach and general manager (as the Flames did at the end of Iginla’s tenure). Because the Canucks were a better team than the Flames of a few years ago, these moves have returned them to the post-season much more quickly.
In a present-day sense, the Canucks look a lot like the Flames.
- Relatively new coach having success returning the team to the post-season after an absence? Check.
Calgary has Bob Hartley. Vancouver has Willie Desjardins.
- Team offense generally carried by a strong top line…? Check.
Calgary has Jiri Hudler, Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Vancouver has the Sedins and a combination of Radim Vrbata and Alex Burrows (throughout the season).
- …but also assisted by some strong puck-moving defenders? Check.
Calgary has T.J. Brodie and Dennis Wideman. Vancouver has Alex Edler and Chris Tanev.
- Average to below-average even-strength teams bolstered by strong special teams? Check.
Calgary never takes penalties. Vancouver has an excellent penalty kill. Both have solid power-plays.
- And a pair of solid goalies, one of which is a brand-new free agent acquisition from the summer? Check.
Calgary has Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo. Vancouver has Ryan Miller and Eddie Lack. Heck, Hiller and Miller even rhyme!
Vancouver is the more veteran team, and their more recent playoff experience means that their entire club has an advantage in playoff games-
played. The majority of Calgary’s core hasn’t even played in the post-season. But the Flames youngsters are using veterans like Hudler, Wideman and Deryk Engelland as resources, and they are very familiar with the Canucks and know what they’re up against.
“We know they have a dangerous top six,” said Josh Jooris after Tuesday’s practice. “That top line there, the Sedins, obviously they’re well-known. They got some good puck-moving defensemen and they can chip in from all over. We’ve just got to be able to not change much, just play our game and limit those guys’ time and space.”
The Flames’ youngsters are likely going to be balls of energy when the puck drops to begin the series. Several players noted that managing that excitement will be key early-on.
When the regular season began, very hockey fans and pundits predicted the Flames would be in the post-season. Several players, as well as head coach Bob Hartley, noted in the run-up to the beginning of the playoffs that the team isn’t satisfied merely with making the playoffs. The club doesn’t plan on being push-overs, regardless of whether they’re still considered underdogs by the hockey world.
“We have lots to prove,” said Jooris. “We talked about it this morning. All 82 games did is put us on the starting line: now it’s a race to the finish.”
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.