CALGARY, AB -- The Calgary Flames are moving on to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for just the second time since winning the Stanley Cup in 1989.
Matt Stajan's third period marker with 4:17 left -- the first career playoff goal for the 31-year-old veteran -- broke a 4-4 tie to send the C of Red into a frenzy.
Jiri Hudler and Michael Ferland capped off the game with an empty netter each to secure a 7-4 win for Calgary and a 4-2 series victory in Game 6 of the Western Conference First Round best-of-7 against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday. The Flames trailed early when they surrendered three Canucks goals in the first nine minutes of the opening period.
And yet another improbable comeback was on tap. The response? Three goals of their own in just over nine minutes -- a Canucks franchise record for faastest three from the start of a playoff game.
The Flames will face the Anaheim Ducks in round two, who dispatched the Winnipeg Jets in four games.
That doesn't matter, though, as the Flames season would have been labelled a success even if they missed the playoffs by a point or two. They've done it all season -- proved the critics wrong and last night was no exception.
The Flames summed up their entire season in 60 minutes.
The 'Cardiac Kids' had another trick in their seemingly endless bag, this time on a colossal stage in the biggest hockey game Calgary has seen in 11 years.
"When you coach a group of athletes that believe, you get crazy games like this one," said coach Bob Hartley, who is no stranger to this post-game speech. "You look at the scoreboard, it was three-zip and there was 9 minutes gone in the period and guys were still saying 'there's plenty of time, let's get the next one'. Those guys are amazing."
Although the Flames roster is heavy with youth, the veterans of the group spoke up to try to spark another comeback when the Flames found themselves facing an early deficit.
"We've got a great group of guys in this locker room," said Johnny Gaudreau, who scored the Flames' third goal. "A lot of character guys and a lot of leaders that really step up in the locker room between periods to really make sure we started going in the second period. We have a really, really great group of guys in here so it's just exciting to be a part of it."
Calgary's top unit of Gaudreau, Hudler and Sean Monahan had combined for seven points prior to Game 6. The trio was the subject of much criticism for the lack of production in the first five games and vowed to turn things around when it matter most.
Combining for 10 points Saturday, a big reason why the Flames found success and were able to erase an early shortfall. Monahan cut the Canucks lead to one. Gaudreau tied up. After the Canucks regained the lead, Hudler tied up again and then later salted it away with an empty netter assisted by his linemates.
"I thought we had a good game," said Hudler, who finished the night with four points -- a Flames high for the season. "We've been trying to do that all season but the playoffs is a different pace. We had tough match-ups, they got the match-up at home in Vancouver.
"They have great players, the Sedin's are world-class players. It was tough but we got it done tonight as a team."
Stajan's first playoff goal couldn't have come at a better time. With the game knotted at four, he picked up a loose puck in the slot and fired it top-right star with less than five minutes left. Fitting for the Flames veteran who has been through a lot in the past 13 months.
"The first thing that came to my mind was we scored it but we still have five minutes here to finish them off," Stajan recalled. "Looking back now and sitting back, it's so special. It's been such a tough year for my family. This team has been great all year. We found a way and we found a way tonight and to be a part of this is amazing."
Stajan embodies everything the Flames are made of and have been able to accomplish this season. Down and out, never quit. Never give up. It was fitting the winning goal belonged to him, a finale in a game he was named first star and had three points when the smoke cleared.
"It's awesome to see him play like that," smiled Gaudreau. "I know he's been in the league a while and hasn't played in many playoff games. It's awesome to see him get rewarded."
Calgary's line of Stajan, Ferland and David Jones were a wrecking crew the entire series.
Vancouver's blueliners should be icing bumps and bruises for weeks after enduring a punishing six games where the aforementioned threesome imposed their physical will at every opportunity.
"They made it hard and there were some shifts I couldn't get to them," said Ferland, who chalked up 40 hits in the six-game sequence. "They're a great team and that was the big thing for me coming into the series, I wanted to be very physical."
Mission accomplished. Ferland led the charge with not only the most hits in the series with 40 but several bone-crushing checks that filled highlight reels through past 10 days. Not only that, but Ferland managed to mix in a pair of goals and an assist to go along with a third star nod.
"I've never really been a part of a team like this," Ferland admitted. "We never give up. Being down three goals we just stuck with it and everyone kept it calm. It's just an unreal feeling to get that win."
Credit where credit is due. The C of Red was as delirious as it's ever been last night and the common theme in the Flames' locker room post-game was the atmosphere in Scotiabank Saddledome and support by the fans.
"Let's give credit to our fans, I've never seen this," said Bob Hartley, who struggled to come up with the right words to explain the fans. "I've been in great markets. I remember winning the Stanley Cup in Colorado... to see every fan [in Calgary] with the Flaming C, wearing it proudly -- you almost feel like they're on the bench will you. We had to yell the line changes in the third period once we took the lead -- we couldn't communicate.
"It's their passion for our team and our relationship."
Gaudreau acknowledged the fans as a big reason for Calgary's heroics.
"It's exciting to be a part of a team like this with the fans behind you," he said. "It's hard to lose games when you've got people cheering like that for you every game. I know all the guys talk about it in the locker and how excited we get when we see stuff like that. It's just really cool to be a part of something like that."