GILBERTSON: Flames could be tough for first-round favorite


It’s usually sort of a springtime tradition in the hockey world – talk about a lower-ranked team that no one wants to face in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.In this unprecedented summer recovery, the Calgary Flames may fit that profile.

Give them credit – the Flames were impressive in a four-game ouster against the Winnipeg Jets in the genre’s opening round qualifying. With all due respect to the rest of the Western Conference play-in survivors, this is probably the side the favorites prefer to avoid.

“Right now, with our team, I think the biggest thing is we’re hungry,” said Flames frontline center and alternate captain Sean Monahan, pacing his team with six points up to present. “We’ve had playoff chances before and we’ve been embarrassed and obviously eliminated on several occasions. Right now you’re looking at our team, every guy is bought and every guy wants it.

“I think the character of our team has intensified. ”

Advancing into the qualifying round – whatever your classification, Calgary’s first postseason series triumph since 2015 – is no small step.

The Flames’ next opponent will be determined Sunday afternoon, and it’s that simple: they will meet the winner of a morning match between the St. Louis Blues and the Dallas Stars (1 p.m. MT, Sportsnet). Even though the action will take place in an empty Rogers Square in Edmonton, the other players will have the edge on the ice in what will be a best-of-seven battle.

The Blues, of course, are the reigning Stanley Cup champions and all the key pieces in that race – a list that is headlined by Jordan Binnington, Alex Pietrangelo, Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko once again in good health. – are back the offer for a repeat.

The Stars appear to be a more favorable game, especially as they dropped six in a row before the pandemic break and lost back to back in the bubble. That said, they were the stingiest team in the Western Conference during the regular season and have a group of dudes – led by Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski and Tyler Seguin – with a history of filling the net against the Flames.

“It doesn’t matter who we play, it’s going to be a hell of a tough run,” said Calgary starting scorer Cam Talbot. “There are only good teams left.”

Indeed, there are reasons to fear both the Blues and the Stars, each capable of dodging the game after finishing among the top four in the regular season standings.

The point is, the Flames are also a formidable enemy. From this point of view, they have a serious potential for upheaval.

For starters, they have a rating depth. In fact, each of their first row, second row and third row tickled string against the Jets, while Tobias Rieder pulled on a shortie and rearguard Rasmus Andersson pulled one into an empty net.

“I mean, when you have 11 guys on the scoresheet…” said Talbot, no doubt grateful for the support of the race. “Our best players were our best players (against Winnipeg), but we got top-to-bottom contributions from our roster. Our penalty was really good and our power play got some big goals, so I think the special teams are going to be huge. But to score depth, that’s for sure …

“Anytime you can get contributions from everyone it’s going to be huge, and I think that’s what’s going to make us a tough team to manage moving forward.

While the Flames still have plenty of talent, they added courage and tenacity after an early – and easy – outing as a seed last spring.

They have a reliable defense, especially if TJ Brodie continues to play at the same level he did in the play-ins.

And their favorite goalie is in kind of a groove right now. Talbot did not allow any softies against Winnipeg, posting a stunning 1.51 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.

Perhaps most important of all, the Flames have learned some tough lessons from their past playoff flops and seem – at least so far – to have turned all that frustration into valuable fuel.

Some would say they had an easier route due to the Jets’ injury issues, but it’s a positive sign that they refused to calm down, sticking to a crash-and-bang mark that has clearly wreaked havoc on the under-authorized opposition.

“What’s going to make our team difficult is that we’re physical and we have a really good forward failure,” said third-row cross Sam Bennett, who has scored twice and had 22 hits in the game. jets drop. “We can be tough on the other team’s defense. I think we showed that in the Winnipeg series, and we’re not going to give up on the next player.

Whoever plays next, the Flames – the eighth seed in the play-ins, now sixth among the remaining teams – will be considered the underdogs.

After you finally get over that first bump, however, it looks like a less light one that could do some serious damage.

They should feel good after their performance against the Jets, although overconfidence has been an enemy in the past.

“I thought it was a great series for us – we learned a lot about our team and we played pretty solid hockey,” Bennett said on Saturday’s Zoom conference call with the media. “But now we’re looking right ahead. We are going to move on. We played good hockey and now we’re moving on and worrying about the next team, whoever it is.

“It doesn’t really matter to us. We are a confident bunch right now. ”

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