SPORTS

Calgary Flames defied odds, expectations en route to NHL playoffs

04/10/2015 01:32 EDT | Updated 06/10/2015 01:59 EDT
CALGARY - The Calgary Flames didn't spend a lot of time saluting their fans at the Saddledome after their final home game of the regular season Thursday.

For the first time in six years, the Flames knew they had more games to play there this season.

Calgary returns to the NHL playoffs for the first time since 2009 with a 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings, who were eliminated from post-season contention and will not defend their Stanley Cup title.

"To do it at home with a game like this, a game where we had to earn it, we had to knock off the defending champs, so it's pretty special," assistant captain Kris Russell said.

"We're going to have another shot to play in front of these fans."

Calgary's first-round opponent will be Vancouver Canucks.

"That should be exciting, huh?" said Flames defenceman Dennis Wideman. "Right now, it's great to be in the playoffs."

Vancouver (47-29-5) is second in the Pacific Division with 99 points and two up on third-place Calgary (45-29-7).

The Flames require both a win in Winnipeg and for the Canucks to suffer a regulation loss to Edmonton in their regular-season finales Saturday to get home-ice advantage in their series.

Calgary can set a franchise record for road wins in a season with 23 on Saturday. The Flames assisted the Jets — who lost a shootout to Colorado on Thursday — into the playoffs by eliminating the Kings from wild-card contention.

When the first round opens, the Flames will play their first NHL post-season game since April 29, 2009— when Calgary lost 4-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks in a Game 6.

A team in the second year of a rebuild, and one that lost its captain and best player Mark Giordano to injury with 21 games to go, defied odds and expectations to get to the NHL playoffs.

"The first month or two of the season, maybe with all our young guys, we didn't know any better and didn't know we weren't supposed to beat some of the teams that we did," Wideman said.

"As the season went on, I think our confidence built. We expected to win our games then."

New general manager Brad Treliving wondered aloud in the pre-season who would score the goals for the Flames.

His answer was several players who had career years. Among them were Jiri Hudler, who scored his 30th and 31st goals of the season against the Kings, and sophomore forward Sean Monahan, who is also at 31.

Rookie sensation Johnny Gaudreau scored his 24th of the season Thursday.

"There's a lot of guys in this locker room who haven't had many playoff games." Gaudreau said. "I'm fortunate to help be a part of this process and help get my first playoff games in as well."

Under head coach Bob Hartley, whose name will be in the mix for the Jack Adams trophy that goes to the NHL's coach of the year, the Flames were a fast, relentless squad.

Russell, Wideman and T.J. Brodie took their games to another level on the blue-line and ate up extra minutes when Giordano was sidelined.

With Karri Ramo out with an injury, Jonas Hiller solidified his position as Calgary's No. 1 goalie with 33 saves against the Kings.

Calgary led the league in blocked shots and won 10 games this season when trailing after two periods.

After halting an eight-game winning streak in December with a come-from-behind overtime win in Los Angeles, the Flames lost three in a row in regulation just once since the New Year.

They've gone 12-5-3 since losing Giordano to a season-ending bicep injury Feb. 25.

"We have a group of guys that not many people believed in, but internally, we did and to do it with the group we did, it was pretty special," said Russell, from nearby Caroline, Alta.

"At the same time, there's a feeling in here that we're not done yet. It's one thing to get in the playoffs. Now it's to compete."

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