Two years ago, the Calgary Flames began rebuilding. Today, they are in the playoffs. An intense season of mostly ups, occasionally plagued by crushing downs, is nearing its end in pretty much the best, and most unexpected, way possible.
A team in part led in scoring by a 20 and 21-year-old has a lot to look forward to in the future. A lot. And now, that includes the near future, as the Flames have locked themselves into a first round playoff matchup against the Vancouver Canucks. They can even take home ice advantage, but will need a bit of help to do that.
Flash back to December. The Flames put together a hell of a start to the season. They only lost two games in a row once, and that included an overtime loss that got them what we can now recognize as an incredibly important point. It was an incredible start, but one that couldn't last.
The Flames lost eight games in a row in December. They fell out of the playoff spot they'd refused to let go of. They lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Buffalo Sabres. They scored on themselves. It looked like the success was about to end.
Remember: it came down to the Los Angeles Kings. It started with them, too.
Down 3-0 to the Kings with just over a period of hockey left before the Christmas break, the Flames were looking like they were about to have a pretty desolate holiday. You go from an unexpected place near the top of your division to a free fall right out of it, losing to some of the absolute worst teams in the league, and then you've gotta sit at home and think about that for a few days, unable to actually do anything about it? That's no good.
Johnny Gaudreau scored a natural hat trick. He extended the game. Mark Giordano finished it off in overtime. For the first time in two and a half weeks, the Flames won a game.
The Kings' collapse saved the Flames' season.
It's only fitting the same team got the Flames into a far-off land, still thought to be a few years away yet.
Today, they're in.
They'll play Vancouver.
They can beat Vancouver.