Flames not taking foot off gas after officially clinching playoff spot

CALGARY — The Calgary Flames’ season started with the simple hope of getting back to the playoffs.

It has progressed to the point where twice in the last month the Saddledome faithful have punctuated blowouts with chants of “We Want 10.”

Under the tutelage of Darryl Sutter the bar has certainly been raised ’round these parts.

That happens when a team is dynamic enough to turn a 1-0 deficit 30 seconds in, into a 9-1 slaughter.

Okay, the opposition was bottom-feeding Arizona.

Nonetheless, you can’t blame a raucous gathering of Dome dwellers for being in a celebratory mood.  

In the same week Johnny Gaudreau eclipsed the 100-point mark, his team finally followed suit.

Given where Gaudreau and his Flames were a year ago, a pretty healthy debate could be had around which century mark is more surprising.

Heck, we could add a third one in there soon, as Matthew Tkachuk is now just four points away from triple-digits.

Either way, the resurrection of Gaudreau and Tkachuk has played a huge role in Saturday’s confirmation that the Flames have officially had their ticket punched to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

An Edmonton Oilers win earlier in the day over Vegas put an x beside the Flames in the standings where they’re also likely days away from clinching the Pacific Division.

Yet, there they were Saturday night, lining up against the NHL’s worst team with the exact same lineup Sutter hopes to open the post-season with.

No rest unless you’re injured, as Sutter has proclaimed.

“I don’t really care about the game, all I’ve got to say is, friggin’, with two weeks left in the season we made the playoffs,” said Sutter, whose club moved to 101 points with seven games left. 

“Give the players lots of credit. That’s all that matters. There isn’t anybody in this room that would have said that six months ago.”

Indeed, the tide has turned dramatically in Calgary, much like Saturday’s game in which the Flames trailed 1-0 after one, only to explode with four goals in 2:33 to open the second.

Given how stunning the franchise’s turnaround has been after going through a coaching change and missing the playoffs last season, something like a nine-goal celebration is hardly surprising anymore.

By night’s end Gaudreau, Tkachuk and linemate Elias Lindholm each had four points apiece to get the party started.

“It’s a huge accomplishment for our team from where we were at last year and where we are this year,” said Gaudreau, who now has 105 points.

“I’m proud of the guys in the locker room. We’ve got to try to put ourselves in a good spot for the rest of the year and try to get home ice the rest of the playoffs and get ready for round one.”

This team is amongst Cup contenders now with the brawn, balance, goaltending, goal scoring and structure to make plenty of teams around the league painfully aware the Flames are still the hottest team in the NHL since the all-star game.

One of the questions now revolves around how Sutter will go about trying to help the club maintain its winning ways through seven more games of regular season play.

Three years ago, when the Flames clinched the west conference regular season crown at roughly the same time, the team struggled to maintain their intensity and dominance down the stretch.

Five games into their first round series against a surging Colorado club that year, the Flames were unceremoniously bounced, leaving a mark all Flames veterans keep vowing they’ve learned from.

We’ll see, as the balance of the schedule is filled with a mishmash of playoff misses (Chicago, Vancouver, Winnipeg), as well as teams also doing their best to position themselves for the spring showcase (Dallas, Nashville twice, and Minnesota).

“Just looking back at that 2018-19 year we had guys sitting and guys resting for the playoffs and we just kind of took our foot off the gas,” said Gaudreau.

“We can’t do that this year. We have to keep getting better every single game and try not to relax and get comfortable just because you’re in the playoffs. That’s something that sat with me since that year and I think a lot of guys on our team this year were a part of that and we learned from that.”

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