SPORTS

Upstart Calgary Flames set the bar high for themselves next season

05/12/2015 07:25 EDT | Updated 05/12/2016 05:59 EDT
CALGARY - The Calgary Flames closed the book on their Cinderella season disappointed they couldn't extend it beyond the second round of playoffs.

In the second season of a rebuild, the Flames surpassed all expectations with a 20-point improvement and their first playoff berth in six years.

Calgary (45-30-7) ousted the Vancouver Canucks in six games to get beyond the first round of the post-season for the first time since 2004.

Their ride ended with Sunday's 3-2 overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinal. The Flames set the bar high for themselves in 2015-16 with what will again be a young team.

"The storyline is going to be can we do it again? Can we back to the playoffs?" Flames captain Mark Giordano said Tuesday at the Scotiabank Saddledome during the players' exit interviews.

"We have to prove that to ourselves and everyone else too."

Calgary wasn't a big, strong team, but was one of the fastest and fittest in the NHL.

General manager Brad Treliving wondered aloud prior to training camp who would score for the Flames this season. The answer was eight players who had career years in points as well as rookie sensation Johnny Gaudreau.

Veteran winger Jiri Hudler and 20-year-old sophomore centre Sean Monahan led goalscorers with 31 apiece. The slippery, skilled Gaudreau contributed 24 goals and 40 assists in his NHL debut. The 21-year-old is a finalist for the Calder Trophy that goes to the NHL's top rookie.

Giordano and fellow defencemen Kris Russell, T.J. Brodie and Dennis Wideman were given the green light to jump into the rush and shoot early and often, which generated tremendous offensive pressure from the back end.

"To create chances now you have to have that second wave from your defencemen," Giordano said. "We're not the biggest team, but we were a quick transition team that created offence off the rush a lot and that's where we were successful."

Coach Bob Hartley used the natural competition that comes from working two goalies as a tandem to get the goaltending he needed at the right times.

Jonas Hiller played the majority of games during the regular season and was Calgary's starter in the first round of playoffs against Vancouver.

Karri Ramo took over for Hiller early in the series versus Anaheim and made 44 saves in Sunday's loss. Ramo will be a restricted free agent in July. Hiller has a year remaining on his contract.

The third man on the depth chart, Joni Ortio, is spoiling for NHL starts. Treliving has decisions to make on the goaltending front in the off-season.

Treliving's priority, however, is signing Giordano to a contract extension this summer. The captain was in the running for the Norris Trophy when he suffered a torn bicep Feb. 25 and underwent surgery a week later.

The loss of Giordano was considered the death knell to Calgary's playoff chances as they were a team on the bubble at that time.

But the Flames went 17-13-3 in their top defenceman's absence while drawing on what seemed like the bottomless reserves of Russell, the NHL's top shot-blocker, and Brodie.

"We had the pedal down for at least the last 40 games of the season," Treliving said. "This team really emptied the tank to get into the post-season. It was a learning experience those three weeks we were in the post-season."

Brodie and forward Josh Jooris, both 24, as well as Monahan and 25-year-old forward Lance Bouma were young Flames who took significant steps forward in their progression this season.

Rookie forwards Sam Bennett, 18, and 23-year-old power forward Michael Ferland were impact players when they got their chances to play in the post-season.

So Calgary moves ahead relying on several young players to carry the freight for them next season.

"A lot of our key players are young players," Treliving said. "They're players who have either just entered the league or have started to mature in the league.

"I think we're still very much in a development stage.

Calgary's 758 blocked shots ranked second in the league behind Montreal. The Flames earned 24 of their points when trailing after two periods.

Hartley is a finalist for the Jack Adams award that goes to the NHL's coach of the year. The 54-year-old signed a multi-year contract extension with Calgary in December.

Bouma, Jooris and centres Mikael Backlund and Drew Shore are scheduled for restricted free agency this summer. Defenceman David Schlemko, Raphael Diaz and Corey Potter join Ramo in unrestricted free agency.

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