CALGARY - The Calgary Flames bought into what coach Bob Hartley was selling this season, no matter how much it hurt.
The Flames led the NHL in blocked shots this season, putting limbs and sticks in front of an average of 19 shots per game.
That's a significant number of pucks their goaltenders didn't face. That's also a lot of bruises.
"You'd think they were goalies in a paintball tournament," Hartley said. "They're black and blue all over the body."
The Flames are a playoff team for the first time in six years because Hartley had them believing they were a better team than everyone thought.
They did what Hartley asked in order to prove it, even if it meant pain. That takes a master motivator.
It's why Hartley's name is bandied about for this year's Jack Adams trophy that goes to the NHL's coach of the year.
"Don't talk about this. It's not important," Hartley said when asked about the award. "The most important thing I want acknowledged is the commitment of my players."
The Flames open their first-round series in Vancouver on Wednesday against the Canucks.
Top centre Sean Monahan left Tuesday's practice after skating for less than 10 minutes. Both player and coach said the 31-goal scorer needed rest.
Backup goaltender Karri Ramo was back practising after sitting out the final three games of the regular season with an apparent leg injury.
Lanny McDonald, Theo Fleury and Joel Otto, who were members of Calgary's only Stanley Cup team in 1989, spoke to the current Flames in their locker-room prior to the team's departure for Vancouver.
Calgary finished 27th in the NHL last season. A team in the second year of a rebuild, and one that lost captain and best defenceman Mark Giordano to injury, was not expected to make the post-season.
So Hartley paints their current situation as a fun ride to be enjoyed by a team with a dozen players about to make their NHL playoff debuts. The 54-year-old from Hawksbury, Ont., is usually good for a quip per media scrum.
"I wish I could go to a local pharmacy and buy a few cases of experience this morning, but I can't," was Tuesday's offering.
The day before it was: "Every party that has been organized in the NHL this year, we always get the last invitation and by the time we got there, there were no more sandwiches."
Behind the stand-up act, however, is an authoritarian.
"I don't know if you guys know Bob, but he can be somewhat intimidating behind the scenes," forward Josh Jooris said. "Maybe that's part of the motivation. You don't want to let the guy down.
"He does it in a good way. He's a nice enough guy, but when he needs to be stern, he is."
Added forward David Jones: "Guys don't like getting yelled at. He makes you accountable if you don't work hard. We've bought into his game plan and his system and it's worked for us, so the more you're winning, the more guys are buying into it."
Hartley coached the Colorado Avalanche to a Stanley Cup in 2001 during his five seasons there. He also coached the Atlanta Thrashers for just over four seasons. Calgary hired him away from the Swiss league's Zurich Lions in 2012.
His first season in Calgary was shortened by the NHL lockout. Hartley laid the foundation for this breakout season in the second half of 2013-14.
After a line brawl off the opening faceoff in Vancouver on Jan. 18, 2014 — when then-Canucks coach John Tortorella also tried to storm Calgary's dressing room at Rogers Arena — the Flames finished out the season 19-14.
"The effect of this brought the guys together, but there was absolutely no plan there," said Hartley, who put his fourth line out on the ice for the opening faceoff that night.
"Is there positives that came out of this? Yes. The steps we made at the end of last season really set up the stage for this year's training camp."
The Flames signed Hartley to a multi-year contract extension this past December.
"I think he is the main reason we are where we are," general manager Brad Treliving said earlier this season. "He's pushed all the right buttons."
— With files from Stephen Whyno in Toronto
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