It may seem like a moot point with only two games left in the regular season, but the Winnipeg Jets are always learning, and they have a new, valuable teacher: An opponent.
It has been a year full of lessons for the Jets, but they failed to learn in time to make a playoff push, and were officially eliminated from post-season contention on Thursday night. The Flames have been out of the conversation since the end of January, and the past few points have been little more than a formality. Right?
The Flames have quietly impressed their own fans over the past few weeks, and other teams are starting to take notice. Calgary simply won’t go down easy. They put up a formidable battle against Western Conference juggernauts weekly, and sometimes win games that had the odds stacked in their opponent’s favour. When the opposition is too much, the Flames are still a contender until the bitter end of the game.
In March, the Flames won 9 games, and never lost by more than 1 goal until their final game of that month, finishing with a +13 goal differential. To put that in perspective, the Jets had a 4-7-4 record in the same month, with a -14 differential. Soon enough , the Jets’ fall from grace met the Flames’ upswing, and Winnipeg sits only 5 points ahead of Calgary for 12th in the Western Conference as it stands.
The Flames haven’t let off the gas pedal since then, either: they enter Wednesday’s match-up with the Los Angeles Kings on a three-game winning streak.
Count me among those impressed by the determination shown by the Flames. I went from seeing results on Twitter, to watching the odd Flames game on an off-night, to scheduling a Calgary game in with those of the Jets and Chicago Blackhawks, my lifelong favourite teams. If someone had asked me in February if I’d be watching a Kings/Flames game in the final week of the regular season I would have thought it was a bad joke.
Tomorrow night, that’s what I’ll be doing, and I’ll be a surprised man if the Flames are out of the game by the second intermission.
What I find so likable about the Flames is their willingness to succeed, and not fall by the wayside as a mediocre hockey club, although in all fairness, that’s what they are. Their talent level reminds me of a certain Winnipeg team; their commitment to winning is unmatched by any team in the NHL, in my opinion.
Just like the Jets themselves, the Flames’ 2013-14 regular season hasn’t been without fault, and they will face some tough choices in the off-season because of it. However, with youngsters like Sean Monahan and TJ Brodie thriving despite the club’s so-so record, and Brian McGrattan not only earning his sixth goal in 9 seasons, but setting a new career-high with four, is something hard to imagine on any other team than the Flames.
Calgary has done something Jets’ fans have been wishing for since 2010: Playing exciting hockey in April. It may not mean the playoffs are ahead for the Flames, but each game still means as much to players and fans alike as it did in October.
If you haven’t witnessed the Flames yet, no need to worry: Calgary and Winnipeg face off in the Jets’ final game of the season on Friday.
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