NHL: Flames’ motivation high as series with Stars begins
The Calgary Flames have a pair of recent playoff disappointments to fuel their Stanley Cup hopes.
They both will come to mind when the Pacific Division champions play host to the Dallas Stars in Tuesday’s opener of a first-round playoff series.
Many on this year’s Calgary squad were part of the heavily favored team that won the Western Conference crown in 2018-19 only to be upset by the Colorado Avalanche in the opening round.
Even more were part of 2020’s first-round defeat at the hands of the Stars. The Flames were less than one minute away from taking a commanding 3-1 series lead against Dallas, but the Stars mounted a late comeback and won Game 4 in overtime. They finished off the series in six games and vaulted into that season’s Stanley Cup Final.
“It really hurt a few years ago, and we want to show we’re better than that,” Flames center Mikael Backlund said. “A lot of guys have won it once or twice, and they know what it’s like and want to win it again. I think just overall, (we’re a) more experienced group, and … we have a really good shot here, and we want to take advantage of it.”
The Flames will enter the series as heavy favorites. Calgary is the only NHL team to finish in the top six in both goals for and goals against, while the Stars were the final team to clinch a playoff position.
Even so, memories of 2020 are fresh for the Flames, who won two of three regular-season meetings between the teams this season.
“We’re looking forward to playing a team that’s had our number,” Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk said. “They’ve been a team that’s had a ton of success and been on some great runs, so I think we’ve got a very big challenge ahead of us.”
This year’s meeting features two of the top lines in the league. Calgary’s top forward unit of Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm and Tkachuk, who all reached the 40-goal mark, have been receiving plenty of attention as the season progressed.
Dallas boasts a top line that features a 41-goal sniper in Jason Robertson, one of the league’s true breakout players this season, along with Roope Hintz (37 goals) and 81-point producer Joe Pavelski. Whether those lines go head-to-head remains to be seen, but it will certainly make for great viewing.
“I know everyone in this locker room isn’t afraid to play against anyone, so we’ll embrace the opportunity if it’s given,” Robertson said.
Said Stars coach Rick Bowness: “If you’re going head-to-head, your top line still has to create offense. They’re not out there to check, they’re out there to create offense.”
Although the Stars didn’t punch a ticket to the playoffs until late, and didn’t finalize their position as the first wild-card team until their final game (only because the Nashville Predators blew a four-goal lead in their season finale against the Arizona Coyotes), Dallas shouldn’t be overlooked.
Plenty of players remain from the squad that made its surprising playoff run two years ago, and they will be able to rely on that veteran experience once the puck drops on the best-of-seven series.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in this group when it comes to meaningful games and tough opponents,” forward Tyler Seguin said. “It’s more the lower seeds we have trouble with. We’re excited for this opportunity.”
–Field Level Media