STOCKHOLM — If Elias Lindholm won the battle, Gabriel Landeskog took the war.
At some point last year a friendly wager was hatched between two Swedes enjoying career seasons on dominant forward lines: Whoever finished with more points would be treated to dinner at a high-end Stockholm restaurant by the runner-up.
It was a tight race.
Lindholm, in his first campaign with the Calgary Flames, surged ahead of the Colorado Avalanche captain by outpacing him 31-21 from the end of December through the end of February. He then held on at the wire for a narrow 78-75 victory.
“I think I was ahead of him and then sort of right after we acknowledged there was going to be a bet his line completely took off,” said Landeskog. “Monahan and Gaudreau.”
At this late stage of the summer, it’s worth noting that Landeskog has yet to pay up.
The official word is that schedule conflicts have kept it from happening, but there may be some procrastination at play as well. Because when the chips were really down in the spring, Landeskog’s Avalanche dispatched Lindholm’s Flames in five games during an unexpectedly lopsided first-round series.
“That’s why I shouldn’t have to pay the bet,” Landeskog said with a laugh. “We won in the playoffs. We beat him.”
This is not something Lindholm needs reminding of.
A summer that’s included the typical hockey player’s diet of workouts, golf games and rest has also involved a fair bit of retrospection for the 24-year-old. He didn’t simply wipe the playoff stumble from his mind after returning home to Gavle, about two hours north of Stockholm.
“At the end of the day, we won Game 1 and we were kind of lucky,” Lindholm said during the NHL/NHLPA European Player Media Tour. “They were just too good for us, we didn’t have a chance. That was the first time during the season where I felt like ‘We’re having a tough time here.’
“Like, they were outplaying us.”
How did everything go sideways for the No. 1-seeded team in the Western Conference after a 50-win, 107-point season?
“I think as soon as we clinched, we were — you’re not doing it [intentionally], but without knowing it, you’re like ‘Oh, try to take a breather’ and relax a little bit,” said Lindholm. “And Colorado kept fighting for a playoff spot. As soon as the playoffs started they were ready to go and we weren’t. I think that’s what happened to Tampa as well. Yeah it’s tough, that’s probably something we can learn from. I think it all stings for everyone there, for our team, we were expecting more of ourselves and to go further in the playoffs.
“I thought we had a good chance to go all the way, but sometimes it’s a long way. It’s a long way to go all the way.”
Lindholm notes that the Washington Capitals got the job done in 2018 despite not having their strongest team of the prior decade. He’s got some extra insight there, too, since Nicklas Backstrom has become a neighbour, workout partner and close friend back in Gavle.
He even attended the veteran centre’s Stanley Cup party last August, keeping a safe distance from the trophy.
“We had the team to go far, but it’s got to click at the right time,” said Lindholm. “You look at Backstrom: Probably when they won they didn’t have the best players on the roster, but it just clicked for them.”
Despite the bitter ending, it was a big season for Lindholm.
He found immediate comfort in Calgary — saying he enjoyed things like regularly putting on a winter jacket again, after five temperate years with the Carolina Hurricanes — and took a big step in his production while playing alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.
The fifth-overall pick from 2013 always believed he had big offensive numbers in him and finally proved it with a 27-goal, 78-point campaign. A right-shot forward, he also brought value by taking strong-side draws (winning more than 54 per cent) and soaking up big minutes on the penalty kill.
“In Carolina I was moving here and there [in the lineup], and up and down, and it was hard to find someone to build chemistry with,” said Lindholm. “[Flames coach Bill Peters] pretty much told me right away to play with these guys. We sat down and had a couple talks.
“When I had a chance to play with them, I just tried to work hard every game and try to make plays, because if you don’t make plays with those guys they’re going to be pissed, you know?”
Lindholm had never finished higher than 18th in scoring among his countrymen in any given NHL season before topping all 89 Swedish skaters that laced them up in 2018-19. It’s an unofficial achievement he rightly takes pride in, but that comes with a caveat.
“You come to a point right now where it doesn’t matter: I would rather take 40 points and go further in the playoffs,” said Lindholm.
Even if it would have meant splurging on a nice dinner for Landeskog this summer.