The Flames fell a victory shy of winning a franchise-record 11 consecutive games in a 5-2 defeat to the Bruins, but the result isn’t dampening the team’s soaring spirit.
There is tremendous optimism in Calgary, even in the aftermath of their recent 5-2 loss.
The Flames tied a franchise record with 10 wins on the bounce when they defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in a shootout on Monday. The Flames weren’t even in Calgary the last time a 10-game-winning streak was strung together.
The last time such a streak was achieved was in 1978, when the franchise was known as the Atlanta Flames.
Sure, lengthy winning streaks are more commonplace in today’s NHL, but this upstart Flames unit should be exceedingly proud of what they accomplished.
Had it not been for a rusty Chad Johnson, who started in place of the unwell Brian Elliott, I could be talking about history being made in Calgary last night. Johnson, prior to the Bruins defeat, last started in a 4-2 win in Florida on Feb. 24.
That’s a long time to sit on the pine. And boy oh boy did it show. It was as if Johnson had awoken from an extended winter hibernation.
He was culpable for two of Boston’s goals, the first of which was scored by David Pastrnak. Pastrnak burst down the wing and snuck an innocuous shot through Johnson’s five-hole.
The second came from a center ice backhand dump in. Johnson flubbed his attempt to control and Brad Marchand, the league’s hottest scorer, was the lucky recipient of the netminder’s unintentional generosity.
You’re only as good as your weakest link
The Flames, barring last night’s disappointing result, have a lot to be excited about. There is a multitude of reasons for the Flames recent success, none of which are more important than Brian Elliott’s transformation.
Elliott endured a rough start to his Calgary career, losing his first three starts in a Flames uniform. Things didn’t get much better for the 31-year-old netminder, who went on an eight-game losing streak in the inchoate stage of the season. Elliott had an unenviable 8-13-2 record to start his Flames tenure.
But anyone who understands hockey had reason to believe Elliott would turn it around. And turn it around he did. Elliott has won nine on the bounce and is 13-1-1, enjoying a .936 save percentage and a 1.93 GAA in his last 15 decisions.
Those numbers put him among the NHL’s élite netminders.
But Elliott’s success is just one of the innumerable reasons why the Flames have the best record, 15-2-1, in the last 18 games.
Rewind back to Jan. 24 when the Flames were embarrassed in a 5-1 trouncing away to Montreal. Flames coach Glen Gulutzan was not amused, his comments in the aftermath underpinning what he thought of his team’s anemic display.
“We were pathetic,” Gulutzan said in the post-game press conference.
“It was a pathetic display, No bite-back. No kick-back. Just accept it, right down. Our top guys didn’t do anything.
“We need somebody to step up.”
His words had their desired effect and galvanized the entire Flames squad. Since that defeat, the Flames are 15-3-1.
The Flames’ young offensive core
The Flames young, dynamic offensive core might be the most promising feature of this current, trailblazing team. Calgary’s offensive core is the second youngest in the league. At an average age of just over 25 years, the Flames, if they can keep this lively and energized unit intact, have a prodigious future to look forward to.
Johnny Gaudreau had a frustrating start to the 2016-17 season, the highest paid Flames player endured a run of just one goal in 20 games.
Gulutzan at one point demoted the diminutive star to the fourth line. But like most of his teammates, Gaudreau is back on the right track. A nightmare to play against, Gaudreau is once again at his elusive best, playing like a firefly possessed.
The Flames are enjoying balanced scoring from all four lines, but the Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Micheal Ferland line have picked up the most slack. They’re once again the team’s top line, both in name and practice.
And let’s not forget about the Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik triumvirate. If not for this line carrying the team during the nascent part of the season, the Flames wouldn’t be in the playoff place they find themselves in.
The Michael Stone acquisition
Calgary’s general manager should also take a bow for his part in strengthening the squad.
In an astute piece of business, Brad Treliving masterminded the deal that brought defenceman Michael Stone to Calgary for third and fifth-round draft picks.
As if the Flames needed another Michael on the team. But this Michael has paid immediate dividends.
Stone has yet to lose since arriving in Calgary, the 26-year-old is 8-0 while patrolling the Flames’ blue line. He has missed the last three games due to an upper body injury, so the entire city awaits his return with bated breath.
With the playoffs less than a month away, this team have come into their own at the opportune time. You’d be hard pressed to find a Western Conference team excited about a prospective first-round matchup with the Flames.
Channeling their boundless energy and honing in on their fearless bravado, this team is firing on all cylinders.
Flames fans are starved for success as they haven’t seen their beloved team lift Lord Stanley for almost 30 years.
But the current excitement in the city is palpable, and it’s seems like the start of something special in Calgary.
Other NHL teams would be best served to stand up and take notice.
(This piece originally appeared on Flame for Thought.Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)