Thursday, April 23, 2015

New Chapter: Young Flames with a Chance to Turn the Page on a Checkered Past

The Calgary Flames carry a five-game losing streak into game 5 against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night.

Wait. What?

For real. The last five times the Flames have had a chance to eliminate their opponent from the Stanley Cup playoffs with a victory, they've failed to do so. Five times they've had a team on the ropes and five times they've let their opponent slip out of that noose.

April 22, 2008 in San Jose - Tied 3-3 in series, lost 5-3 in game 7
May 3, 2006 in Anaheim - Tied 3-3 in series, lost 3-0 in game 7
May 1, 2006 vs Anaheim - Ahead 3-2 in series, lost 2-1 in game 6
June 7, 2004 in Tampa Bay - Tied 3-3 in series, lost 2-1 in game 7
June 5, 2004 vs Tampa Bay - Ahead 3-2 in series, lost 3-2 (OT) in game 6


New Team, New Chapter

The good news is none of this recent baggage -- not even one single, measly carry-on item -- belongs to any of the players on Calgary's roster today. For the current group and that includes coach Bob Hartley, those past results are no more relevant to today's situation than old black and white footage of ship wrecks you see on the History Channel.

Not one player, not even injured captain Mark Giordano, who tops the Flames in tenure, played in even one of those five games.

The only player to appear in that last game against San Jose, who is still in the Flames organization, is Craig Conroy, now the assistant general manager.

Here's where current Flames were at back on that forgettable night at the Shark Tank in 2008 when Jeremy Roenick with two goals and two assists helped San Jose score four unanswered goals in less than nine minutes in the second period to take a 5-2 lead and cruise to the victory:
  • Elsewhere in NHLJiri Hudler was in Detroit, Dennis Wideman in Boston, Kris Russell in Columbus, David Jones in Colorado, Jonas Hiller in Anaheim, Matt Stajan in Toronto, Mason Raymond in Vancouver.
  • Overseas - Mikael Backlund was in Sweden, Mark Giordano was in Russia.
  • Junior - Brandon Bollig was in USHL, TJ Brodie in OHL, Joe Colborne in AJHL.
  • Minor Pro - Deryk Engelland was in AHL, David Schlemko in CHL
  • Minor Hockey - Sam Bennett was playing Peewee, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Tyler Wotherspoon were in Bantam, Micheal Ferland and Josh Jooris were in Midget.

Interestingly, two players in the Sharks line-up in that 2008 game were Devin Setoguchi and Douglas Murray, both of whom were seen around Calgary for parts of this season although obviously are not with the team any longer.

In fact, one could also argue Calgary's current group is actually 1-0 when they have a chance to eliminate a team as that was the exact script on April 9. It was not the playoffs technically, but was as similar in circumstance as it could get when the Flames knocked off Los Angeles 3-1 at the Saddledome to officially extinguish the Kings post-season hopes.

The players that are still having nightmares about all those opportunities they let slip away from 2004 to 2008 are all long gone. There were four players that appeared in all five of those heartbreakers -- Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff, Stephane Yelle and recently retired Robyn Regehr.


Misery Goes Back Even Further

The misery surrounding the Flames inability to put a team away extends all the way back to right after Calgary won its only Stanley Cup in 1989. The lone bright spot was 2004 thanks to the heroics of Martin Gelinas. Now a Calgary assistant coach, Gelinas scored the series-winning goal each time as the Flames temporarily reversed the jinx and won three consecutive games when they had their opponent on the brink.


May 19, 2004 in San Jose - Ahead 3-2 in series, won 3-1 in game 6
May 3, 2004 vs Detroit - Ahead 3-2 in series, won 1-0 (OT) in game 6
April 19, 2004 in Vancouver - Tied 3-3 in series, won 3-2 (OT) in game 7

April 17, 2004 vs Vancouver - Ahead 3-2 in series, lost 5-4 (3OT) in game 6
May 19, 1995 vs San Jose - Tied 3-3 in series, lost 5-4 (2OT) in game 7
May 17, 1995 at San Jose - Ahead 3-2 in series, lost 5-3 in game 6
April 30, 1994 vs Vancouver - Tied 3-3 in series, lost 4-3 (2OT) in game 7
April 28, 1994 at Vancouver - Ahead 3-2 in series, lost 3-2 (OT) in game 6
April 26, 1994 vs Vancouver - Ahead 3-1 in series, lost 2-1 (OT) in game 5
April 16, 1991 vs Edmonton - Tied 3-3 in series, lost 5-4 (OT) in game 7


Of note, there were five players that appeared in each of those games during that six-game stretch from 1991 to 1995. However, I'm going to give Joe Nieuwendyk and Theoren Fleury a pass as they also have Stanley Cup rings from 1989.

That leaves three players to shoulder the burden of being the face of the Flames post-Stanley Cup failings. The three players that played in all six of those disastrous losses from 1991 through 1995, but didn't arrive in Calgary until after the Stanley Cup season were Ronnie Stern, Robert Reichel and Frank Musil. Fair or not fair, those early-to-mid 90s years and all those missed opportunities to build off the championship season, will always be a dark chapter in the team's history with those three on the cover.

Of course, the subsequent drafting at 6th overall of Daniel Tkaczuk (1997) and Rico Fata (1998) didn't help matters either. But that's a topic for another day.


History is on Nobody's Side Tonight

If you think about it, both teams heading into tonight's clash in Rogers Arena have ugly historic records that they pack with them. The Canucks have lost 13 of their last 15 playoff games going back to game six of the Stanley Cup final in 2011.

Calgary isn't much better having lost 12 of its last 15 playoff games in which it could eliminate its opponent with a victory.

That said, the circumstances are very different.

While none of the baggage from past failings belongs to any current Flames, that's not the case for Vancouver.

Even without injured Alex Burrows, there are eight other regulars that have been with the Canucks the entire time and sport the scars from these last five years of playoff frustration -- Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Alex Edler, Jannik Hansen, Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa, Chris Higgins and Chris Tanev.


Making Their Own History

The best part about history is it's exactly that -- history.

It's in the past and while there are so many losses in there that haunt Flames fans to this day -- especially the 40-plus crowd, the current club led by six rookies are creating their own legacy and so far, it's been the opposite to what Calgary fans have grown accustomed to.

In a refreshing change, underachieving is out and overachieving is in.

The whole 2014-15 season was like that. Overcoming an eight-game losing streak was an example of that. Going 15-7-3 since Giordano got injured is another example of that. Leading 3-1 in games over the Vancouver Canucks while being the series underdog is yet another example of that.

Thankfully for Flames fans, it appears a new era is finally upon this city. It's time for Brodie to make people forget about Musil. It's time for Ferland and Bennett to exorcise the ghosts of Stern and Reichel.

That first chapter in the Flames new history book could be wrapped up tonight with a win in Rogers Arena that would punch their ticket to the second round for just the second time in 26 years or more so, make it one-for-one in terms of playoff appearances and playoff series victories for the new Monahan-Gaudreau-Bennett era, which is a better and more fair way to look at it.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

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