Playoff structure paying off for Flames
CALGARY, AB -- The Stanley Cup Playoffs are all but a mathematical impossibility for the Calgary Flames. It hasn’t stopped coach Bob Hartley from trying to give his club a taste of the postseason.
Coming out of the 2014 Sochi Olympic break, Hartley devised a plan to replicate the playoff grind by dividing the docket, which features 25 games in a 46 day stretch, but putting a bit of a spin on the schedule.
He’s divided the remaining games into a series of playoff sets.
“I think it’s a great investment,” Hartley said. “This is totally new from the rest of the year. I think that for next year or any playoff years, it’s going to be something at least they can taste. We’re not going to BS anyone saying it’s a real, real playoff atmosphere because we don’t have any pressure but at the same time, it’s just the routine of a playoff day, that’s what we’re going through right now.”
It’s caught the attention of his club.
“I think it’s great for us to be able to focus on those smaller segments,” forward Kevin Westgarth said. “Hockey as a whole is a short perspective. That kind of gives you a good meter of how to judge your recent play and play going forward.
“It’s also great to see from a coaching staff, that they want us to be pushing, they want us to be playing our best hockey. That pays dividends down the road for years to come when you have everyone coming together at the end. Obviously this year we’re not going to be in the playoffs and that pisses everybody off, but there’s a lot of fundamentals we can make sure are intact when we do get those chances.”
Calgary dropped their initial set in seven games after a 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on March 10. It was followed up by a win in six after dispatching of the Edmonton Oilers 8-1 on Saturday.
The Flames currently find themselves up 1-0 in their third playoff series following a 2-1 shootout victory against the San Jose Sharks on Monday.
“I think it keeps the focus,” captain Mark Giordano said. “I think we’ve done a good job as players not losing track of it. The last series we won and the first one we didn’t win and we’re starting another one. I thought it was a great idea. It keeps you focused, for sure.”
The benefit goes well beyond focus, though.
On a team that features 12 players who have yet to compete for the Stanley Cup and have another six still in single digits in career playoff games, Hartley’s system allows for a bit of an education on the rigors of a playoff push.
“It’s a learning experience when you’re playing teams that are fighting for playoff spots or fighting for their playoff lives,” said Joe Colborne, who has two playoff games under his belt as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. “It’s a much more intense game than even at the start of the year. That’s the closest we’re going to get to playoff hockey this year but it’s going to be a good learning experience.
“We have a lot of young guys that have never played any NHL playoff games and some of us like me have played two. I’m still a rookie at it. It’s a whole ‘nother level. You take any bit of experience you can get you go with it.”