Mike Keenan is the last coach to guide the Flames into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
In Keenan’s two seasons in Calgary, he got the team to the post-season both times without producing a series win.
However, a string of victories five years ago in mid-December established a club record and tied an NHL standard.
From Dec. 9 through 18 in 2007, Keenan’s Flames played six games on the road and won them all. Half of them against team’s he had coached previously with one of them bringing a milestone personal triumph.
After a home stand that produced only one win in four games, dropping the Flames to 12th place in the Western Conference, “it’s a good time to get out of town”, Keenan stated after a 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Dec. 6 of ’07.
…And even “Iron Mike” couldn’t have imaged what would transpire.
Six-straight wins in the home of the opponent with the Flames either tied or behind entering the third period in five of the six. They won three games by one goal plus two by a pair of tallies.
The first stop was one of Keenan’s old stomping grounds, Chicago, where he was bench boss of the Blackhawks for four seasons starting in 1988-89 include a Hawks’ run to the Stanley Cup final in 1992.
On Dec. 9, 2007, despite allowing the first goal, the Flames rallied behind the 36-save goaltending effort of Miikka Kiprusoff to prevail, 3-2.
Two nights later, Keenan was back in Florida coaching for the first time since departing as GM of the Panthers in Sept. of 2006. Again the Flames permitted the first goal, but Jarome Iginla’s tally with 10 seconds left in regulation time forced overtime. The Flames won the shootout to earn a 2-1 triumph with Kiprusoff making 32 saves plus three more in the shootout.
Keenan wasn’t the Flames coach when they lost Game 7 of the 2004 Cup final, 2-1, in Tampa Bay (it was Darryl Sutter). But he was behind the bench when the team returned for the first time to scene of the big disappointment.
The Flames avenged that loss somewhat, but it was a dramatically different game. Where the game of June 7, 2004 produced a mere three goals, the Dec. 13, 2007 contest generated 15 tallies with the Flames getting nine of them. It produced “hat tricks” from Iginla, all in the 3rd period, and Kristan Huselius.
The next night in Carolina, a see-saw battle with the Hurricanes ended in a 4-3 Calgary triumph with Dion Phaneuf scoring the winning goal at 11:48 the final period.
The trips’ fifth match brought Keenan back to St. Louis, where he had been GM-Coach of the Blues from 1995 to 1997 before being fired.
Keenan on this Dec. 16/07 evening he was seeking his 600th career regular-season coaching win.
Iginla again provided the big spark with two goals, including the winner, and 2 assists, in a 5-3 triumph. At the time, it made Keenan just the fifth NHL coach to win 600 regular-season games.
The journey ended in Columbus on Dec. 18 with the Flames seeking to do something they’d never accomplished previously — win all six games of a trip. The Flames had lost their three prior visits to Columbus. However, Kiprusoff made 36 stops in a 3-1 success making it a record six-for-six journey.
Kiprusoff in that ’07-08 season — Keenan’s first in Calgary — played a club record 76 games including all six on the monumental trip and was No. 1 star in half of them. Iginla was also a star three times generating eight goals part of his second career 50-goal campaign. Huselius had four goals and six helpers while Daymond Langkow produced seven points, four of them goals.
After starting the excursion in 12th place, the Flames finished it in seventh in the West, which is where they’d finish the campaign before bowing to San Jose in a seven-game, first round playoff series. Keenan’s second season in Calgary saw the team finish 5th but lost again in the first round — to Chicago in six matches.
Keenan hit the road at season’s end with a year left on his Flames contract and hasn’t been at the helm of an NHL club since.
But he and the Flames were clearly in command five years ago this week.