It’s been two long years.
… Two years is a long time, right? Whatever.
With a 5-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks, the Calgary Flames have clinched a playoff spot. Who they play is yet to be determined; whether or not they’ll even have home ice is up in the air. But the important thing, for now, is they’ve made the dance.
This is a team with core members primarily in their early 20s (not to mention the one teenager). This is a team not yet ready to truly contend. But it’s one that can’t be looking forward to another high draft pick – because they’re entering the phase of their careers where they actually have something to play for.
This is the collective that got off to a horrible start under Glen Gulutzan. Let’s not forget them stumbling right out of the gate, immediately kicking off with a Nicklas Grossmann turnover. Let’s not forget the league-worst special teams, the minuscule chances of them dragging themselves back into the race, even the calls for Bob Hartley to come back. It took them eight games to get a win in regulation; 22 games into the season, they got their third multi-goal win. They were a team flirting with a corsi of above 50% but always at a negative goal differential.
They turned the corner on a long late November road trip out east, and when they came home, they threw together a six-game win streak. They turned the wrong corner in late January, all of a sudden being consistently blown out and humiliated; a team that looked like it might be on the verge of a playoff spot shunted back towards the basement. They were playing well enough to win – but then they were giving up the first goal, and the second, and the third, and the fourth, and there was nothing left to play for at that point.
And then they won 10 in a row, and all but guaranteed they would make the postseason.
It’s guaranteed, now.
First it was Chad Johnson who saved the season; now, Brian Elliott. Johnny Gaudreau suffered the first injury of his career and his teammates swept the offending party. He and Sean Monahan struggled to find their footing; they certainly look worth their second contracts now. Micheal Ferland toiled away on the fourth line until the last resort was put with them and finally, things clicked.
Mikael Backlund put the entire team on his back when they were struggling, keeping them afloat with the help of Michael Frolik and breakout rookie Matthew Tkachuk. Dougie Hamilton went from Grossmann to Mark Giordano, and the five formed a top tier unit that can handle just about anybody in the NHL on most nights.
You combine them with an incredible starting goalie who once again had to fight to prove his worth, a scoring line that’s truly feeling it now, and it’s possible they may yet make some noise this year.
Probably more importantly, though – it bodes for an even better future.
Tonight, though? It’s for celebrating the present. Because the Flames gave themselves a chance – and they earned it every step of the way.