A sense of be­long­ing

Flames not con­tent with merely be­ing in post-sea­son

Metro Canada (Calgary) - - SPECIAL REPORT: MORTGAGES - THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

The cur­rent edi­tion of the Cal­gary Flames are a dif­fer­ent team than the one that made the NHL play­offs two years ago.

Small, fast and larce­nous, the Flames of 2015 were a light­ningin-a-bot­tle squad that earned a quar­ter of their points that sea­son when trail­ing af­ter two pe­ri­ods.

With scant play­off ex­pe­ri­ence through that ros­ter, get­ting to the post-sea­son for the first time in six years and mak­ing it to the sec­ond round for the first time in 11, was con­sid­ered a mas­sive buck­ing of the odds.

The 2017 Flames are big­ger, meaner and more sea­soned in play­off ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause of a com­bi­na­tion of the run to the sec­ond round two years ago and the play­ers im­ported since then.

The Flames open their West­ern Con­fer­ence quar­ter-fi­nal se­ries Thurs­day in Ana­heim against the Ducks.

Cal­gary was more of a grad­ual build this sea­son, but had one of the best records in the NHL af­ter Nov. 15 (40-23-3).

“We ac­tu­ally de­serve to be here this year,” said winger Johnny Gau­dreau, who made his play­off de­but in 2015.

“That first year, a lot of come­backs, a lot of, I don’t want to say luck, but a lot of good op­por­tu­ni­ties to come back in games helped us get there.

“This year I think we just played all around a bet­ter game.”

Last sum­mer’s sign­ings of Troy Brouwer and Kris Ver­steeg, win­ners of three Stan­ley Cups be­tween them in Chicago, brought a com­bined 136 games of post-sea­son ex­pe­ri­ence into the fold. Dougie Hamil­ton, in his sec­ond sea­son with the Flames, and Michael Stone ac­quired in Fe­bru­ary, give Cal­gary size and mus­cle on the back end to com­ple­ment cap­tain Mark Gior­dano and T.J. Brodie. “Ob­vi­ously we’re a lit­tle heav­ier, but I think we’re deeper on both the front and back end,” de­fence­man Deryk En­gel­land said. “Our goal­tend­ing has been great for a long time now.”

The Flames were un­set­tled in goal two years ago, flip-flop­ping be­tween Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller through the reg­u­lar sea­son into the play­offs.

Brian El­liott, ac­quired in a trade with St. Louis at last year’s draft, had a rough start to the sea­son but is now Cal­gary’s undis­puted No. 1.

The 32-year-old from New­mar­ket, Ont., went 19-9-2 with a save per­cent­age of .919 and goals-against av­er­age of 2.29 af­ter Jan. 1.

While the Flames may now have the tru­cu­lence that pres­i­dent of hockey op­er­a­tions Brian Burke al­ways said he wanted, Cal­gary can’t af­ford to be on the wrong side of the law and sit­ting in the penalty box in Ana­heim.

“Seven-game se­ries, it’s go­ing to hap­pen,” En­gel­land said. “Guys are go­ing to go af­ter guys and try to get un­der other guys’ skin.

“You’ve got to play whis­tle to whis­tle and the stuff af­ter the whis­tle, a lot of the time it’s best to skate away. If you’re go­ing to eat a punch, eat a punch.”

He’s been re­ally di­aled in here, re­ally this sec­ond half. GM Brad Tre­liv­ing on goalie Brian El­liot

LARRY MACDOUGAL THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

2017PLAY DUCKS FLAMES Sean Mon­a­han, left, Johnny Gau­dreau and Matthew Tkachuk have been key o en­sive con­trib­u­tors in the Flames gar­ner­ing a 40 23 3 record since Nov. 15.

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