CALGARY — It’s not a dream, Calgary. Or a nightmare, Edmonton.
It’s reality. The Calgary Flames are a playoff team, and you’re up next, Vancouver.
The Flames knocked out the champs on Thursday, taking everything the Los Angeles Kings had to offer and giving back even more in a 3-1 victory that clinched Calgary’s first playoff berth since 2009. Calgary was the better team in this game, and nobody deserves a post-season spot more than this Cinderella story.
Today, the Flames are the toast of Calgary. And the Kings? They’re simply toast.
"After the pre-game skate today, I saw a guy walking down the street with a Flames jersey over his suit. I knew it was going to be a crazy atmosphere in here tonight," said defenceman Dennis Wideman, just another in a long line of Flames who enjoyed career seasons this year. "All year long, I don’t think people expected us to make the playoffs. Coming into tonight, I don’t even think people expected us to win this game.
"We wanted to beat L.A. We wanted to get in tonight."
The win sets the first all-Western Canadian matchup since the same teams met in 2004, a series decided by Martin Gelinas’ Game 7 overtime winner. Gelinas is now an assistant coach in Calgary.
The Flames have not won a round since the Jarome Iginla-led foray to the 2004 Stanley Cup final. But all of that is ancient history around here, with Bob Hartley’s precocious Flames having rekindled the love affair between a Western Canadian city and its hockey team.
"We believed in training camp. We really believed, because the way we finished last year gave us hope. It gave us belief," said head coach Bob Hartley. "We’ve only made the playoffs. There’s much more to come. Of all the goals we wanted to accomplish, making the playoffs was only goal number one."
In a game that most right-thinking people expected L.A. to dominate early, of course Calgary proved everyone wrong.
"We’re going to play a big, hard, rough road game and get a win (at Calgary)," L.A. defenceman Drew Doughty had promised, but alas, his 29:53 of ice time produced not a single point on this night.
"It just shows how we work," said Johnny Gaudreau. "They’re a hard-working team. It’s a privilege to get to beat them."
Gaudreau got a puck to the net that rolled barely over the line off of Jonathan Quick at the 12:15 mark of the game, and it proved valid after video review. Then Jiri Hudler -- who was heroic, with two goals and an assist -- walked in over the blue-line and wired home his 30th of the season.
That the Flames’ top line provided on this night is no surprise. The Hudler, Gaudreau, Sean Monahan unit has been the best No. 1 line in the NHL for the past couple of months. For the final 40 minutes, L.A. pressed more than Calgary, but could dent Jonas Hiller’s goal but once.
By the time it was over, Hiller walked off to a bear hug from first-year general manager Brad Treliving. Like Hartley, there isn’t a button that Treliving has pushed in error all season long here.
"Yes, I guess I’ve proven him right, that he brought me here," laughed Hiller, who had no idea he was joining a playoff team when he signed with Calgary was a UFA last summer.
"I was hoping I could bring something that would help them to be a playoff team. I didn’t know if it would work out right away," he said. "Last year I was one of the middle-aged guys (on Anaheim). Here, I’m one of the oldest guys. I knew if the goaltending was solid, if I could give the team some confidence. We could win our share of games.
"That it would go this far? It was probably more dreaming than realistic."
As for L.A., perhaps for old time’s sake, head coach Darryl Sutter wrote Mike Richards’ name on his lineup sheet -- after healthy-scratching the veteran centreman for the past four games. Alas, Richards is a bit of a microcosm for this Kings team: ageing, overpaid and clearly unable to skate with a quick club like Calgary.
There are still many good players here, but the ones who have led Los Angeles to Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014 are showing some wear and tear, to be sure. The Kings become only the eighth team in NHL history, and the first since Carolina in 2006-07, to follow up a Stanley Cup winning season by missing the playoffs.
The Flames went 2-1-1 against the Canucks this season. It has yet to be determined whether the series will start in Vancouver or Calgary.