CALGARY – As eventful as the Calgary Flames’ recent turnaround has been you simply won’t find a moment in 2018 as exciting or dramatic for the club as its 6–5 overtime win against the Flyers earlier this month.
The Comeback Kids had done it again, prompting Dome faithful to react with roars that rivalled the team’s last playoff appearance here in 2017.
Euphoria on the bench, in the stands and in front of TVs Calgary-wide ensued.
Finishes just don’t get any better than that.
It was the Flames’ league-leading seventh third period comeback win of the year, which saw four players get three or more points.
Given the calendar is about to flip, it is time to look back on the 18 most significant and memorable moments of 2018 for a franchise that has ramped up its theatrics of late:
18. The toss seen ’round the world
Five days into 2018 Glen Gulutzan wasn’t overly impressed by the Flames’ practice habits following a pair of wins. His F-bomb-laced tirade became a YouTube classic after he hurled his stick 18 rows deep. The players and fans were amused by the out-of-character meltdown many saw as contrived. However, it worked, as the Flames went on to win five more in a row for their longest streak of the year.
17. Doughty calls Tkachuk “most hated”
Following a heated 2-1 overtime win by the Kings in Calgary in which Drew Doughty was harassed all night by Matthew Tkachuk, the star defenceman told Sportsnet Tkachuk was the most hated player in the league.
“I’m pretty sure he might be,” he said in a one-on-one interview. “I have lots of friends on other teams and they don’t love him either. But whatever — that’s how he plays.”
Nothing has changed, which is just the way the Flames like it.
16. Gully given the axe
Given how talented the Flames were on paper and how dramatically they dropped out of the playoff picture, it surprised very few that Gulutzan and his two main assistants were fired April 17. Beloved by the media for the same reason the players loved him, the personable coach was considered too easy on the lads.
15. Peters hired
Long before Gulutzan was fired, there was speculation Bill Peters would end his tenure in Carolina for a return to his home province. The Flames made it official Apr. 23 following a coaching search that included only one candidate. GM Brad Treliving had previously worked with Peters at the world championships and figured he was the man to bring more accountability to his players. It appears he nailed it.
14. Mike Smith injury undoes season
With two seconds left in a 3–2 win in Brooklyn Feb. 11, Mike Smith collapsed to the ice in pain with an apparent injury to his groin area suffered as he moved awkwardly across the crease. The team’s all-star netminder would be lost for a full month, in which time Rittich and Jon Gillies were unable to keep the Flames in a playoff position they would never again come close to landing.
They finished 8-16-2 after the injury.
13. The first five-spot
Playing against a Vegas team that humbled the Flames at home last year with a big comeback, the Flames scored five times in the first period for the first time since 1993. The 7–2 win at home on Nov. 19 saw Tkachuk and Gaudreau have four-point outings, while Monahan added three. It kick-started the first of an incredible four five-goal periods the Flames have netted already this year.
12. The second five-spot
Two nights after they opened with five against Vegas, the Flames doubled down by netting five in the first period against Winnipeg – back-to-back five-goal openers for the first time since 1989. They went on to beat the heralded Jets 6–3 for Rittich’s sixth-straight win.
11. Jaromir Jagr departure
After months of speculation that no. 68 was going to be sent packing, the Flames made it official on Jan. 29 by assigning the 45-year-old legend to the Czech team he owns, HC Kladno, for the remainder of his one-year deal. It capped a bizarre chapter in Flames lore, which saw him score just once in 22 games as a Flame while battling injuries from the start of his late signing.
10. Dillon Dube makes the team
A brilliant pre-season forced management to move up the timeline on Dube’s NHL debut to opening night. The kid from nearby Cochrane, Alta., was an instant fan favourite due to his speed, tenacity and skill. He scored his first NHL goal Nov. 21, but was sent down to Stockton for more ice time a week later.
9. Czarnik announces arrival
Pre-season games rarely make for memorable moments, but when free agent signing Austin Czarnik had three nice snipes at home against Vancouver this fall Calgarians were over the moon. Alas, he’s taken longer to settle in than fans hoped, but on that night he earned every one of their hats.
8. Short-handed clinic
In a 6–1 win in Arizona on Nov. 25, the Flames hit several milestones, including James Neal’s 500th point, Noah Hanifin’s first goal as a Flame, and Mark Giordano’s 400th game. The team also scored three short-handed goals for the first time since 1997.
7. MSG demons slayed
Symbolic of the sudden scoring depth the Flames would exhibit early in the 2018–19 season, Garnet Hathaway scored twice (as did Gaudreau) to lift the Flames to their first win at Madison Square Garden since 2008. It pales in comparison to the heartache they’d long faced in Anaheim, but nonetheless a monkey off Calgary’s back.
6. The Real Deal signs
With an eye on bolstering the Flames’ anemic offence, the Flames reeled in perennial 20-goal scorer Neal one day after free agency opened. The cost was $5.75 million times five years. Although the terms of the deal were a concern, people were thrilled such a proven scorer would choose Calgary.
5. Janko goes bananas
At the tail end of an impressive rookie season, Mark Jankowski ended the season with a four-goal effort in an otherwise meaningless finale against Vegas. Adding to the excitement was the fact his fourth came early in the third period, giving him plenty of time to score a fifth, which would have netted a local Safeway/Sobeys shopper $1 million.
4. Calamity in Columbus ends with 15 goals
Down 4-1 early on the road against a pretty good Columbus squad on Dec. 4, it looked like a lost evening for the Flames. However, Calgary scored five consecutive goals in the middle frame in a game they’d ultimately win 9–6. Few could remember anything like it, setting the tone once again for a season in which the Flames never say die. Gaudreau and Monahan had four points apiece, Giordano and Tkachuk had three apiece and the Flames scored three power-play goals, marking the fifth-straight game scoring with the man advantage.
3. The Trade
In one of the gutsiest trades in Flames lore, Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and Harvard stud Adam Fox were shipped to Carolina for Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. The goal was to mix up the dressing-room dynamic somewhat while upping the Flames’ scoring depth.
Plenty of debate surrounded the June 23 move some thought would be Brad Treliving’s undoing. But six months later, it’s looking like it may ultimately be one of the best swaps in Flames lore.
2. Tops in the West
Despite being without their captain and top shut-down centre in Mikael Backlund, the Flames beat Nashville 5-2 on Hockey Night in Canada on Dec. 8 to move into first place in the west – the first time the Flames were on top of the conference this late in the season since 1993.
1. The Freak-Out over Philly
Yes, people are still buzzing over that one.