Earlier today, I felt the need to rain on the parade a bit. Historically, the Calgary Flames haven’t been the best at closing out playoff series.
However, this season’s edition of the Calgary Flames have shown a fairly well-established killer instinct. When they have had the opportunity to put a team away or to keep a team down, they have done so.
The Flames have often said that they’ve played at a playoff pace all year. To be frank, that’s probably true, as their record got them into the playoffs and is by definition a “playoff pace.”
But here are two key records to consider. Since they went on their eight-game losing streak, from then to the end of the season they were on an impressive 28-15-4 run. And in the 21 games they played without captain (and best player) Mark Giordano, then were 12-6-3. In both situations, the hockey world went “Well, they lost (eight-in-a-row OR Giordano), they are probably done.” In both situations, they kept trucking along regardless.
One hallmark of the “old” Calgary Flames, back when the team was full of older guys with arguably emptier gas tanks, was that the club could not hold a lead to save their lives.
This season has been a lot different.
The club boasted a 16-2-0 regular season record when leading after the first period, and 24-1-1 when leading after two periods. While the coaching staff would certainly love to have first and second period leads more often, the fact is they have been very strong – both compared to their past and the rest of the league this season – and their ability to hold leads and finish off opponents has been quite impressive.
FINISHING OFF TEAMS
There are four games that really stand out to me in terms of showcasing Calgary’s killer instinct. One game is against a potential second-round opponent and three feature the Flames finishing off a team’s playoff hopes.
On March 11, the Flames hosted the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks were attempting to round into playoff form, while the Flames were back from a road trip and really hoping to continue their momentum and gain some breathing room in the West playoff race. What followed was an impressive 6-3 victory, where the Flames got out to a lead and then just kept going after the Ducks. It resembled in many ways their 7-2 win over the Ducks from a year prior, in that the Ducks weren’t great early-on and the Flames were all-too-happy to punish them for it. It didn’t kill the Ducks by any means, but it was a win that the Flames desperately needed (and got).
On March 23, the Flames beat the Colorado Avalanche to keep pace with the remainder of the West’s playoff contenders and, simultaneously, all-but-end Colorado’s slip playoff hopes. A similar circumstance occurred on March 30, when the Flames went into Dallas and extinguished the flickering hopes of the Stars. And on April 9, in the biggest game of the regular season, the Flames beat the Los Angeles Kings with a very strong sixty minutes of ice hockey to clinch a playoff berth and dethrone the Kings in one fell swoop.
SUM IT UP
So my point is this: the Flames are a much different team than the ones that consistently blew chances to win series over the past decade. These Flames have proven fairly adept at choking the life out of an opponent when the opportunity has presented itself.