Before the season started, Bob Hartley and the Calgary Flames were not expected to contend for the postseason.
The preseason projections looked bleak for them. The Hockey News had Calgary dead last in the Pacific Division. Chris Peters of CBSSports.com as well. Dave Lozo of Bleacher Report went a step further.
“They’re in the league’s toughest division and will have their work cut out for them just to reach .500.”
Hartley and the Flames ignored the noise. They were on a mission to prove doubters wrong and show the league this year would be more than just a rebuild.
They would go on to be the Cinderella story of the 2014-15 NHL season.
Seven Games At A Time
The first step in Hartley’s plan was to break down the 82-game regular season into playoff-style seven-game series. The former Colorado Avalanche boss did this to mentally prepare his squad for the postseason should they get there. Slowly but surely, Calgary began to pile up victories in their respective “series”, finishing the first 21 games of the season with a 12-7-2 record.
In December, the club was mired in an eight-game losing streak which, according to pundits, ended any serious challenge for the playoffs. Hartley and his team kept their focus and bounced back going 14-7 in their next 21 games. Calgary had defied the odds for so long and many expected the fire to be put out in the stretch run.
Flames were not in a playoff spot when they lost their best player to injury. In 20 games without Mark Giordano, they go 12-5-3. Remarkable.
— Darren Haynes (@DarrenWHaynes) April 10, 2015
The injury to defenseman Mark Giordano on February 25th, eventually diagnosed as torn biceps which required surgery, appeared to be the water to douse Calgary’s fire once and for all. Again, Hartley kept his focus on the team. The Flames stuck together and persevered through the adversity showing heart, determination, and a burning desire to finish a job no one thought was possible.
Putting all the segments together, Calgary went 45-30-7; a 20 point improvement over last season. They finished well above .500. They clinched a playoff spot while simultaneously eliminating the defending Stanley Cup champion LA Kings. The “C of Red” was alive. Their Flames were in the postseason party.
Hartley’s Flames were a statistical anomaly this season. They had the third-worst team Corsi (shot attempts for – attempts against) at 44.4 percent according to War-On-Ice. They struggled in the dot winning just 47.4 of their faceoffs, fifth-worst in the league. They found themselves trailing heading into the final period 34 times.
However, they never gave in. No matter how much the odds were stacked against them, they never quit.
The final 20 minutes were Calgary’s finest this year. The squad scored a league-leading 99 goals in the final frame. They won the second-most games of any team when allowing the first goal (20). Ten of their 45 wins came when trailing after the second period.
The Flames may not have been strong out of the gates but refused to give up until the clock hit zero. Advanced statistics and metrics can measure possession statistics but not work ethic and the will to win that Hartley’s club showed on many occasions.
Defying The Odds (Again)
Going into their first-round series against Vancouver, Calgary faced a tough matchup with their Canadian rivals. The Flames took three of the first four games and had the chance to send the Canucks packing on home ice in Game 6. Things looked dire for the “C of Red” as their hockey club was hit for three goals in just over seven minutes and faced a daunting uphill climb to avoid a decisive Game 7.
Impossible? Not for Hartley and the Flames. Michael Ferland, Sean Monahan, and rookie Johnny Gaudreau scored in succession to tie it up only for Vancouver to strike late in the second. Another comeback would be required to close out the series.
Jiri Hudler tied the game. Matt Stajan’s first career playoff goal won it. Hulder’s empty-netter iced it. Another third period comeback was complete.
The line of Hudler, Monahan, and Gaudreau combined for 86 of Calgary’s 237 goals in the regular season. On this night, they combined to torch the Canucks for 10 points and a plus-nine rating.
The 31-year-old Hudler posted two goals and two assists while Monahan and Gaudreau posted a goal and two assists each. Calgary’s best line all season, which combined to score just seven points in the previous five games, enabled the Flames to continue their improbable postseason journey.
This season, Bob Hartley’s Flames have faced adversity multiple times and burned right through it. They face a daunting task of trying to save their season one more time in Anaheim against the Ducks on Sunday night.
However, if there is anything we have learned about Hartley’s club, they will never quit until the clock strikes midnight on Calgary’s Cinderella season.