Closing out an NHL playoff series to advance to the next one has a way of accelerating a player’s maturation.
The Calgary Flames may have been the higher seed heading into their conference quarterfinal against the Dallas Stars, but the Dallas lineup is deep in players who know what it takes to advance deep into the post-season after a run to the Stanley Cup Final two years ago.
“You want to break that down just (compare) the two lineups and see who has played in more winning-series games,” Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said.
“It’s not something that’s easy to accomplish.”
The first round of the 2022 NHL playoffs challenged Calgary to transfer what gave them a division-topping 50-21-11 season into the playoffs.
The Flames failed that test in 2019. Calgary finished first in the Western Conference, but was swiftly ejected in five games by the wild-card Colorado Avalanche in the opening round.
“It’s always hard to win the last game no matter what sport you’re in,” Sutter said. “You’re not a proven playoff team until you make it several years in a row and then you have some success, if you look at the history of champions.
“Guys are still learning. I’ve said it after every game. It’s a process for our younger players.”
Forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Mikael Backlund are the only holdover Flames from the 2015 edition that clinched a first-round series in Game 6 against the Vancouver Canucks.
It was a wild finale with Calgary overcoming a 3-0 deficit to win 7-4.
“It’s hard to end a team’s season,” Gaudreau said. “A lot of guys haven’t been to a point like this in their career. It’s exciting.”
Calgary was bounced in the second round that year by the Anaheim Ducks in five games.
Flames beat Stars 3-1 to take series lead
The Flames beat the Winnipeg Jets 4-0 in Game 4 of a best-of-five qualifying round in Edmonton’s playoff bubble in 2020 to advance.
But Calgary squandered a 3-0 lead in Game 6 of their first-round series against the Stars to fall 7-4 in Edmonton and drop out of the playoffs.
The majority of Flames lacked successful playoff reps, which the addition of two-time Stanley Cup winners Blake Coleman and Trevor Lewis, Cup winner Tyler Toffoli and finalist Calle Jarnkrok over the past 10 months was designed to remedy.
“We’ve brought in some guys this year who’ve had a lot of success in the playoffs and then we have some guys who haven’t had a lot of success,” defenceman Noah Hanifin said.
“Having some of those older guys kind of brings that calming presence whether we’re down or up it’s just ‘hey, like we’re good, just keep playing our game’ and I think that’s been a huge addition for us this year.”
The Flames are playing post-season games in front of rabid fans both at home and away for the first time since 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic had them toiling a lot in empty arenas.
“It’s exciting because there’s fans, right? That’s the best part,” Sutter said. “I don’t care if they’re throwing beer on you or calling you whatever.”
© 2022 The Canadian Press