With a 5-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Sunday night, the Calgary Flames clinched the Pacific Division title.
It marked the first time in 13 years that the Flames accomplished the feat. They’ll also end the regular season as the Western Conference champs, the first time in 29 years they’ve done that and just the fourth time in franchise history.
So yes, this season is colossal for a Calgary team that’s clawed their way back to propriety.
“I’ve been here a long time and it’s tough enough to make it to the playoffs,” said Sean Monahan after Sunday’s tilt. “So I think to do what we did is pretty special and it’s something that you’ll always remember. We have a lot of work ahead of us. As a group, we know what we’re in for. We’ve got a lot of guys in this room who want to prove something and do something in this league, so I think this is an important year for this team.”
For Monahan and the Flames – and indeed anyone set to take to the Red Mile when the post-season gets underway – the fun has just begun. While the platitude reads that anything less than Lord Stanley’s Cup is a clear failure, you have to think that it just might be true for this manifestation of Calgary’s NHL club.
Expectations are high and it could well be that the Flames are Canada’s best hope for claiming the greatest prize in pro sports.
“We’ve had a good year, a good regular season, but we know the work lies ahead in the playoffs,” said Mark Giordano. “But we won’t take this for granted. It’s an accomplishment by our team to finish first in the West. Obviously, not an easy thing to do. So we’ll enjoy it, but we’ll get geared up now for the playoffs.”
If Sunday’s effort was any indication, the Flames are ready. They scored quickly, held the Sharks to a season-low 15 shots and took full advantage when it counted. It could be argued that San Jose was fatigued coming into the contest, but excuses won’t matter in the playoffs.
The last time the Flames won a conference crown it was called the Campbell Conference and they finished nine points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers. 32-year-old Sergei Makarov won the Calder Trophy and Calgary, defending their title from the previous season, was knocked out of the first round by the Los Angeles Kings. The Flames wouldn’t return to the post-season for 15 years.
Obviously, history need not repeat itself.
With three games to go in the regular season, this year’s model of the Calgary Flames will be ready to face the second wild card in the Western Conference. Colorado has one point up on the Coyotes.
The Sharks, meanwhile, have punched their ticket to face Vegas in the first round of the playoffs.
(Photo credit: NHL)