The prospect of Calgary’s seven game Eastern Conference road trip was going to be tough from the outset, having to face four playoff teams and two teams sitting just outside the playoff picture. It was no stretch to characterize the trip as a make or break point in Calgary’s playoff push, and it got off to an auspicious start.
Their first game came against the New York Rangers, one of the top teams in the Metropolitan Division. Despite sticking with them the whole night, the Flames never broke through against Cam Talbot, losing 1-0. As bad as losing the first game was, things were about to get a whole lot worse for the Flames.
In their second game, coming against a New Jersey Devils team with faint playoff hopes, Calgary came away with a 3-1 win – but paid a huge price for it. In the dying seconds of the game, as he battled in the corner for the puck, Flames captain Mark Giordano fell awkwardly on his arm, leaving the game immediately.
The initial prognosis was not good: out indefinitely, later changed to out for the season with a torn biceps tendon. With the meat of the trip still more than a few bites away from being over, the Flames would now be forced to play out the remaining five games without their best defenceman and their leader.
So long playoff hopes, right? Well, not so fast.
In remarkable fashion – what else should be expected from this team this season? – the Flames reeled off four straight wins, finally ending the trip with a loss to the Ottawa Senators. The final ‘L’ wasn’t for lack of trying, though, as the Flames put together an epic four-goal comeback in the third period to take the game past regulation before finally falling in a shootout.
Having briefly dropped out of the playoff picture just before the trip thanks to a resurgent Los Angeles Kings squad, this was exactly the trip the Flames needed. Taking nine of a possible 14 points – against some of the East’s best teams no less – the Flames rediscovered their key to success: balance.
In the absence of Giordano, fellow blueliners TJ Brodie, Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell amassed a total of 12 points between them (10 between the latter two) and each logged big-time minutes. Russell in particular was impressive, scoring all of his points in the team’s final three games, and putting on a shot-blocking clinic against the Boston Bruins when he recorded 15.
And let’s not forget the time a stay-at-home defenceman by the name of David Schlemko (whom the Flames had just claimed off waivers) hopped the boards in a shootout against the Bruins and made Tuukka Rask look foolish.
Up front, meanwhile, it was Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler who carried the brunt of the offensive load for the duration of the trip. Monahan finished with seven points on the trip, but was topped by Hudler who finished with eight points and two GWGs (and first star of the week honours for the week of March 2-8).
And in goal, though is record didn’t reflect as much, Karri Ramo was sensational, going 3-2 in six starts. Both losses came in games in which he gave up one goal – including a 37-save performance against the New York Islanders – so it’s tough to find fault in his effort.
The Flames now have the benefit of playing the majority of their games at home for the remainder of March, including seven of their next eight, before hitting the road again to close out the month.
It won’t be an easy road to the post-season by any means, but from here on out the road should be a lot smoother.