We’ve known it was coming for a while, but now it’s here: the Flames are officially back in the playoffs.
With 10 games remaining and 95 points already accumulated, the Flames cannot be mathematically passed when it comes to qualifying for a playoff spot. By way of the New York Islanders beating the ninth place Minnesota Wild in overtime, the Flames have officially clinched.
Though they’re in now, the Flames didn’t exactly have a start that made one think of an undisputed playoff team. Their first game of the season looked a lot like the way they closed out a disappointing 2017-18 campaign, and kicking off with a 5-5 record didn’t do a lot to inspire confidence – especially when said fifth loss was of a 9-1 nature.
But then the Flames started to put it together. More than that, they started to dominate teams. They got back on their feet, they won, they scored an absurd amount of goals, they kept blowing teams out, and by early December they suddenly found themselves in first place in the Western Conference: a spot they haven’t relinquished for most of the year, though they’re in a close fight for it now.
The Flames, slowly but surely, turned themselves into a top team. They won games convincingly. They won games they shouldn’t have won. Their top forwards set a ridiculous pace, and mostly kept to it. When they couldn’t, they had the depth to tread water. Their oldest defenceman set himself on a path to make history with the best season of his career. Three rookie defencemen proved they were ready for the NHL. David Rittich did, too. They came together – far better than likely anyone really expected them to.
It’s been two years since they last made the playoffs. Most of their top players are still present, but they’ve also added Elias Lindholm and Travis Hamonic. Older, less talented depth players have been replaced with younger ones with far more scoring potential, several of whom were prospects developing in the system. The entire defence is now mobile. Goaltending is still a question, but the Flames are now pretty much free of deadweight – the weak links are much more difficult to identify than they were two years ago.
And, the possibility this is the best season of Mark Giordano’s career aside, this is a team that looks largely on the upswing. Yes, they’re a playoff team this year – but they weren’t supposed to look this ready for the postseason this soon. If the team continues on its current path, then this is only the beginning.
But what a beginning it’s already become. The Flames will be playing hockey in the spring once again, and it’s shaping up to be a good one. Welcome back.