The Calgary Flames weren’t supposed to be a playoff team this season. Yet here they are, third in the Pacific Division.
The Flames were supposed to be cooked after losing defenseman Mark Giordano to injury for the season, their captain in every sense of the term. Yet here they are, hanging tough, going 5-3-2 in their last 10.
The Flames couldn’t possibly sustain the shooting percentage that’s carried them all season. Yet they remain sixth in the NHL at even strength. And then on Wednesday night, they finished with a preposterous shooting percentage of 26.1 in a 6-3 win over the first-place Anaheim Ducks – a win that featured a second period in which the Flames scored three times on just four shots on goal.
It was a game in which the Ducks took a 2-0 lead in the first 2:51 of the game, having lost in regulation just three times in their previous 38 games in which they scored the first goal.
It was a game in which the Ducks dominated in possession: 62.63 percent corsi-for vs. 37.37 percent for the Flames. (The Flames were out-possessed in the second period, and then were dominated in the third after establishing their lead.)
It was a game that featured something just as confounding as unsustainable stats: Deryk Engelland fighting Patrick Maroon after that two-goal deficit, and the Flames tying the game within the next seven minutes of the first period.
“It was huge. He’s a leadership guy. He saw an opportunity to change the tide, and I think he did that,” said defenseman Kris Russell.
It all flies in the face of logic. We all wait for their bubble to burst. But to the Flames’ credit, this is the culmination of two years under Bob Hartley in which the veteran coach instilled a tireless work ethic and a lack of ‘quit’ in the face of adversity for any of these players. It’s not grit or truculence or any of the other clichés associated with team president Brian Burke; it’s being one of the toughest outs in hockey, which the Flames have been under Hartley.
And then this season, they’re getting better than expected goaltending from the likes of Karri Ramo (29 saves). They’re getting a Calder worthy season from Johnny Gaudreau, who had two goals vs. the Ducks and had coach Bob Hartley calling it his best game as a pro.
“He was quick. He was supersonic,” he said. “We were watching Johnny like fans from the bench.”
So Calgary continues its inexplicable playoff push, against the odds and against logic. But we’ve seen this movie before.
Teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2013 and the Colorado Avalanche last season had unsustainable shooting and better than expected goaltending, and then fell off a cliff in the following season. It’s a short-term high followed by a painful detox, with the anti-analytics gloaters left find their next outlier to use as troll-bait for the smarts.
But try telling that to the Flames as they continue their playoff push, confounding as it is.