By Rob Ficiur
From February 18 to March 13, the Calgary Flames were the hottest team in hockey. The team tied a franchise record with ten wins in a row. The only time that the Calgary Flames won ten in a row was back in 1988-89 when Terry Crisp and Lanny McDonald were leading the team. The 1989 Flames finished first overall in the NHL that year and won the Stanley Cup.
Winning streaks are hard to do. In February / March, four of the Flames ten wins in a row came in overtime or a shoot-out. Back in 1989 those games would have been called a tie (which makes the 89 streak even more impressive). Once teams go into overtime, and especially a shoot-out, anything can happen. A bounce here or there and the game is over. For every highlight, real goal scored in overtime there is a bad line change or quirky shot that goes in. When you win four in a row in extra time you are both good and lucky.
The Flames can thank the schedule maker for part of their impressive winning streak. Seven of the ten teams they defeated were teams that did not make the playoffs. Before a cynic begin to discredit the winning streak, remember that (for some unexplainable reason) it is often difficult to get up when playing weaker teams. Prior to the winning streak the Flames had lost 2-1 to Vancouver and 5-0 to Arizona; two teams that had long been out of the playoffs. Winning against weaker opponents is not a given.
Goaltender Brian Elliot was at the center of the Flames winning streak. Their number one goalie struggled early in the season. By February, he was playing like the #1 goalie the team hoped he would be. Eliot had 1.67 goals against average as he won nine of the ten games. It was backup goalie Chad Johnson who lost against Boston on March 15 that ended the team’s winning streak. Eliot played and won the next two starts with a 1.50 goals against average and a personal eleven game winning streak.
The Flames ten game winning streak vaulted them into a playoff spot. After the winning streak ended, the Flames cooled off, posting six wins and seven losses in the final 13 games. We know that often after a team goes on a hot streak, they hit a cold spell. The Flames less than stellar final games of the season was forgotten when the season ended. The team was back in the playoffs, where they wanted to be.
Two years ago, the Flames surprised all the experts by making the post season and winning the first round series against Vancouver. That year the goal tending tandem of Kari Ramo (15 wins 9 losses, 2.60 goals against average and .912 save percentage) and Jonas Hiller (26-19; 2.36 average and .918 save pct.) pulled the Flames over the top. Eliot’s numbers were on par with the playoff goalies of two years ago with 26 wins 18 losses; and a 2.55 goals against average.
The Calgary Flames seem to have found a goaltender who helped them win this year and for the future…. That was until a losing streak came at the wrong time of the year.
Losing streaks last longer in our minds that winning streaks. Playoff losing streaks are cemented into our minds for life. Too often the team gets the credit for the win and the goalie takes the blame for the losses.
In the first round of the playoffs the Flames played the Anaheim Ducks. That meant they had to play the first two games at the Duck’s Honda center, where Calgary has not won in 24 straight games.
Why can’t the Calgary Flames win in Anaheim? In the last week of the season, the Flames lost their 25th game in a row in Anaheim. In the last 11 seasons, the Flames have not won a game in Anaheim. How can that be? Long gone are coach Sutter, Jerome Ignila, Kipper and Conroy who were part of that 2004 almost championship team. How can the same team, with different players, keep losing at the same site?
Since the 2005 lock out the Flames have averaged 90 points a season while the Ducks have averaged 101. Point-wise the Ducks have been close to Cup contention, while the Flames have battled for playoff contention. In those same years the Ducks have won 12 playoff rounds in the same time that Calgary has won just one round. While the Ducks have been a better team the last 11 years, it does not explain why Calgary can’t win in Anaheim. Calgary has won in every other road rink, including Chicago, (the winner of three Stanley Cups during this time). Technically the Flames did win one playoff game in Anaheim in 2006, but NHL streaks are measured by regular season.
Remember that great winning streak in March? The Flames and their fans have long forgot about it. Instead, they are thinking about a four games losing streak to the Ducks in the 2017 playoffs. The Calgary Flames have the dis-honour of being the first team eliminated in the 2017 playoffs. Goalie Brian Elliot lost the first three games of the series and was pulled after he let in a soft goal on the first shot in game four. With the Flames up 4-1 in Game 3, he let in four unanswered goals. (It is a bit unfair when goalies make a mistake it is their loss, when others make errors it is a team loss. Such is the life of a goalie.) Brian Elliot’s playoff goals against average of 3.89 and save percentage of .880rank last for 2017 NHL playoff goalies.
Within 24 hours of the Flames elimination, fans and media alike bid farewell to Brian Eliot. He will be a free agent in July. In March experts were demanding the Flames sign the winning streak goalie to a multi-year contract. In April, after a four game playoff losing streak there is no thought of bringing him back for next year.
Losing streaks last longer in fans’ memory than winning streaks.