2019 NHL Playoffs, Calgary Flames

Flames Need More Muscle to Be Cup Contenders

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Is it an exaggeration to say that the Calgary Flames got absolutely destroyed in Round 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs? I don’t think so, and I doubt anyone who witnessed that mid-April fiasco would find reason to feel differently (though respectfully, I would love to hear an opposing angle).

High off of a break-out season, career milestones for many Flames players, and a nearly undisputed Western Conference regular season title cruising down the stretch, Calgary fans were entering the postseason with huge expectations. A blowout was what they anticipated, and to be fair, that’s exactly what they got.

Revisiting Avs Round 1 Beatdown of Flames

Hungry and driven with a chip on their shoulder, the underdog Colorado Avalanche out-skated, out-hit, out-shot, and ultimately out-played the heavily favourited Flames. The culmination of the Avs’ hard work and relentless play was a 4-1 series rout of the Flames.

Nathan MacKinnon Mikael Backlund
Colorado Avalanche Nathan MacKinnon reaches for the puck as Calgary Flames Mikael Backlund moves down the ice. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

In short, the Flames were simply not up to snuff against their Colorado opponents. Many things will need to change if Calgary wants to yield better results next season. Based on the lessons from this playoff run (if we can even call it a “run”), physical play is a key factor that the Flames must work on to be a future playoff threat.

Avalanche’s Physicality Helped Them Edge Out Flames

One of the most painful and frustrating things about the first round was how lopsided the physical play was between Calgary and Colorado. To be blunt, the Avalanche won the physical battle by a huge margin, and the Flames, wide-eyed and inexperienced about the demands of playoff hockey, simply didn’t know what to do.

Nathan MacKinnon, Mike Smith
Colorado Avalanche Nathan MacKinnon scores on Calgary Flames Mike Smith (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

Colorado piled on the hits against Calgary in Round 1. Whether it was a full-body collision at centre-ice, spearing young Flames against the boards, or simply slashing and slapping Johnny Gaudreau around with impunity, the Avalanche had a plan of attack, and they exercised it at will, with no answer or response from the Flames.

Despite all of their regular season glitz, Calgary’s go-to scorers were completely shut down by the Avalanche. The top line of Gaudreau-Sean Monahan-Elias Lindholm was held to only two goals in five games, and were a notable non-factor in the series.

Flames Need to Bulk Up

While there is more to the story than physical play, the Flames’ inability to defend themselves is a major vulnerability. The weakness was on full display in their brief postseason stint, and will continue to cause problems down the line if not adequately addressed.

Calgary Flames Head Coach Bill Peters
Frustration shows through on Calgary Flames bench during rough first round of playoffs (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal)

One can only wonder how things might have been different had the Flames been able to better protect their top scorers. Alas, this is playoff hockey. It is physical, it is gritty, and the tempo of play is amplified exponentially from the regular season. Heavy hits and bruising puck battles aren’t the exception but the norm in the postseason. If the Flames want to do better, then they best get with the program.

With the offseason coming up, and thus, free agency and the trade market opening just around the corner, Calgary will have the opportunity to add some much-needed muscle to their ranks. Such an adjustment will likely benefit the top lines, offer protection for key scorers, and open up the ice for the finishers to do what they do best: putting the puck on the net (instead of getting punched in the face). Though it is too soon to call, the Flames’ playoff hopes for next season may depend on this crucial change.

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