UNIQUE CUP FORMAT WOULDN’T CHEAPEN WIN, FLAMES SAY
Coach and captain agree the road to victory harder than ever before
These championship rings wouldn’t sparkle any less.
With the NHL’S return-to-play plan now announced, albeit with no firm timeline, the Calgary Flames know the identity of their opening-round opponent and can start to daydream about what would be an arduous and unusual quest to lay claim to the Stanley Cup.
That is never an easy task. And although some fans and traditionalists will gripe about the 24-team playoff format, that is one thing that hasn’t changed.
In fact, the Flames’ coach and captain both believe it could be tougher than ever to get your name engraved on the NHL’S biggest prize in 2020.
“In order for us to win a
Stanley Cup, we have to win five rounds, so it’s more rounds than what you would normally be looking at,” said Flames interim bench boss Geoff Ward on Wednesday’s video conference with local media. “So the asterisk — if it’s put there — for me, would mean it could potentially be the harder Cup to win than what we’ve seen in the past.
“You’re going to go through the same grind. It basically is going to be a tournament like we have every year. But I just feel, with the extra round for the teams that have to play in, it could be the hardest Cup to win.”
The Flames are among those teams.
As the eighth seed in the Western Conference, they’ll be facing off against the ninth-ranked Winnipeg Jets in the so-called play-in or qualification round.
That best-of-five series likely wouldn’t start until late July, at the earliest, which could mean two months worth of nightmares for some fans about Connor Hellebuyck’s potential to steal games or Patrik Laine’s ability to rip one-timers on the power play.
More top of mind, likely, will be questions about whether Johnny Gaudreau can be a spring difference-maker and whether David Rittich or Cam Talbot — whomever is between the pipes — can shake off the rust and outduel Hellebuyck.
“I feel like there is a big desperation amongst us,” declared Flames captain Mark Giordano on Wednesday’s virtual conference. “We’re not content anymore with just getting there. One year, we got in and we went to the second round (by beating Vancouver in 2015) and it was viewed as a successful season. But for us, talking amongst each other and after the disappointment last year, I think we’re hungry to get in and make a run and really put our bodies and sacrifice ourselves to get to that next level.”
This playoff run, whenever it starts, will be a one-of-a-kind.
The skating stars will be quarantined in hub cities, competing in empty rinks and tested for COVID-19 every evening.
During Tuesday’s nationally televised announcement, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman left the door open for the first and second round — like the qualification series — to be contested, possibly, as a best-of-five.
Even in that unlikely scenario, the Flames would still need to notch at least 17 spring … er … summer wins to reach their goal.
They might not be able to smooch or sip from the Stanley Cup, but that wouldn’t diminish the achievement.
“When people talk about the asterisk, I think what people in the public are talking about are teams that, in other years, wouldn’t have gotten into the playoffs with where they’re sitting right now,” Giordano said. “We’re not one of those teams.
“I really feel like it’s going to be a harder Cup to win than most years — if not the hardest — because of A) the number of rounds and B) the strength of the teams and the health of the teams. It’s going to be every team at their best, basically.”
The 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, despite all the strangeness and silence, will determine the best of this unforgettable season.
Ward owns a championship ring from 2011, back when he was an assistant coach with the Boston Bruins.
If he can lead the Flames to a title after this prolonged pandemic pause, this one wouldn’t sparkle any less.
“Whoever wins, believe me, there is going to be no sort of feeling like, ‘Oh, it was a cheap year. It was something different. It wasn’t normal,’ ” Ward said. “Whoever is crowned the Stanley Cup champion is going to take an awful lot of pride in that.”
I think we’re hungry to get in and make a run and really put our bodies and sacrifice ourselves to get to that next level.
Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano, centre, soon will be renewing hostilities with the Winnipeg Jets in the upcoming “play-in” round.