Before they even stepped on the ice Saturday evening for the late Hockey Night in Canada game, the Calgary Flames had their fate sealed and an NHL playoff spot clinched.
The assist went to the Edmonton Oilers, of all teams, who made it mathematically possible for their Alberta rivals with a 4-0 regulation win over the Vegas Golden Knights in the afternoon.
It was the 31st time in Flames franchise history that they’ve qualified for the post-season and, with a playoff spot secured in Game 74 of the regular season, their sights are now set on locking up the first seed in the Pacific Division.
They punctuated the achievement with a commanding 9-1 win over the visiting Arizona Coyotes to cap off a three-game home-stand and bounce back from embarrassing 6-1 loss to Vegas .
“It’s great,” said Johnny Gaudreau, who had two goals and two assists on an evening which saw seven players with multiple points on the evening. “A huge accomplishment for our team. I remember where we were at last year to this year.
“Proud of the guys in the locker-room, but the work starts now.”
Although, if we’re nitpicking, Saturday didn’t start as positively as it finished.
The Flames looked like they’d turned on Tesla’s self-driving mode for the first period and the Coyotes took advantage as forward Nick Ritchie deposited a deflection on Arizona’s first shot of the game and held a 1-0 lead for the opening 20 minutes of the game.
Then, the second period happened…
Then, the third…
Dillon Dube had a big part of sparking the Flames six-goal outburst in the middle frame. His timely swipe of a loose puck off a Coyotes turnover led to his shortside snipe.
Thirty-eight seconds later, Andrew Mangiapane notched his 32nd of the season. One minute and two seconds later, Matthew Tkachuk inched closer to his own 100 point season with Calgary’s third goal.
And Dube capped off the furious stretch with his second of the night, giving the Flames their second-fastest span of scoring four goals in franchise history (the club record, by the way, is 1:21 on Feb. 10, 1993 vs. San Jose).
Blake Coleman and Elias Lindholm also scored in the frame which saw the Flames out-shoot the Coyotes 14-5.
But this night was all about the ‘X.’
“We made the playoffs with two weeks left in the season. Our goal was to make the playoffs and to get home ice is pretty awesome. I give the players lots of credit,” Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said on Saturday night. “Not anybody in this room would have said that six months ago.”
WE WANT 10 (AGAIN)
After Gaudreau and Tkachuk scored early in the third period, the Saddledome crowd started chanting “WE WANT 10” as the Flames made it 8-1 with most of the final 20 minutes to play out.
The last time the home crowd was encouraging double digits was on March 26 when they beat up on the Oilers 9-5 in the Battle of Alberta regular season finale.
This time, it seemed even more plausible, especially after Gaudreau scored Calgary’s ninth.
While most of the action was in Arizona’s end, Markstrom was good when he needed to be — particularly on a late Rasmus Andersson penalty. At the game’s end, Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom turned aside 25 shots.
There were more “WE WANT 10 CHANTS” with 6:42 left, prompting the tweet of the night from Geordie Macleod, the Flames’ senior director of game presentation and events, to note they “Might need to do a quick mid-game propane run…” to fill up the fuel for the in-house flames that are ignited after every Calgary goal.
“We have to try to put ourselves in a good spot for the rest of the year and maybe try to get home ice for most of the playoffs, if we can,” Gaudreau continued. “Then get ready for Round 1. But I was happy with the guys (Saturday).
“A lot of guys contributed (Saturday), and it was a lot of fun to be part of that game.”
REMEMBERING A LEGEND
Kirk Muller made his NHL debut in 1984 as a member of the New Jersey Devils and, like many, will never forget his very first game.
He’ll also never forget the feeling of that contest, playing against the New York Islanders and, more specifically, Bryan Trottier, Clark Gillies, and Mike Bossy.
“It was a pretty amazing feeling when you’re a young 18-year-old kid, playing against these legends and Hall of Famers,” the Flames associate coach was saying after Saturday’s morning skate. “I had the honour of playing with him in an All-Star game, him and Trottier. That’s always a great memory for me with Mike and getting to know him in Montreal after the years as a person. He was very humble.”
Bossy, who is widely considered one of the NHL’s greatest goal-scorers of all time, died on Friday of lung cancer. The Montreal native was 65.
Over his 10-season career, Bossy scored fewer than 50 goals only once before his career was cut short at age 30 by a hip injury. He was part of the Islanders’ dynasty of the 1980s and captured four Stanley Cups.
“As a player, he could score in so many different ways,” Muller said. “To score goals in this league is one thing. But to score goals with longevity is another. He was the epitome of a great goal scorer.”
The Flames scratched defencemen Connor Mackey and Michael Stone and forwards Ryan Carpenter and Brett Ritchie … There was a nice salute to referee Brad Meier who calling his final game and heading off into retirement. The 55-year-old from Saskatoon reffed his first NHL game on Oct. 23, 1999 and went on to referee over 1,000 games, the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals, and the 2014 Sochi Olympics among other accomplishments … Next up for the Flames in their quest to clinch the Pacific Division? Back-to-back road dates with Chicago and Nashville on Monday and Tuesday.