The Flames began play in Atlanta in 1972, joining the NHL along with the New York Islanders. The franchise was owned by Tom Cousins, who also owned the NBA's Atlanta Hawks. Cousins named the team the Flames after the fire resulting in the "March to the Sea" in the Civil War in which Atlanta was almost destroyed. Hall of Famer Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion was the team's first coach.
The Flames were far more competitive than the Isles in their first couple of seasons and wound up making the Stanley Cup Playoffs in six of their eight seasons in Atlanta, though they didn't enjoy the kind of playoff success the Isles did after their early struggles.
Cousins, facing bankruptcy, sold the team to a group of Canadian investors on May 21, 1980, and the franchise was moved to Calgary. The fans embraced the club (unlike the World Hockey Association's Calgary Cowboys, which had folded in 1977), even though the team was forced to play several seasons in the tiny Stampede Corral. The Flames managed to qualify for the playoffs in their first season in Calgary behind the offense of Kent Nilsson, who put together a 49-goal, 131-point season. In their first playoff run in Calgary, the Flames won a pair of series, beating the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers before losing to the Minnesota North Stars in the semifinals.
The early success didn't last, so general manager Cliff Fletcher decided to clean house after a losing season in 1981-82. Throughout the next three seasons, Fletcher brought in young talent that would form the nucleus of the best era in franchise history. After ending the three-peat hopes of their archrivals, the Edmonton Oilers, in 1986, the Flames lost to the Montreal Canadiens in their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final. Three years later, they met the Canadiens again -- this time winning the first championship in franchise history as franchise icon Lanny McDonald got the Cup-winner in Montreal. The Flames didn't get back to the final until 2004, when they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a hard-fought, seven-game series.
The Flames were also one of the first teams to sign a large number of U.S. college players in an effort to keep up with the Oilers. The annual "Battle of Alberta" is one of the NHL's great rivalries.