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Flames, Canucks share similarities in return to playoffs

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

Two very different teams. Two teams with distinct similarities.

And both the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks will find themselves back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2015.

Year One of a rebuild was as difficult, as anticipated, for Calgary in 2013-14, with a retooled Flames club shuffling off veterans for youth in the new direction. Growing pains were predicted, and those expectations delivered in the form of a 27th place finish and the fourth overall selection in the 2014 NHL Draft.

But Calgary’s second season in what was supposed to be a long, drawn out and painful process proved encouraging, exciting and fruitful with both youth and veteran alike served. Career years from experienced members like captain Mark Giordano and alternates Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell were complimented by sophomore Sean Monahan and rookie Johnny Gaudreau.

The emergence of surprising heroes, Lance Bouma, for example, helped the Flames return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

For those wondering where Calgary’s offense would be driven from, the blue line is the easy answer, fueled by Giordano, Wideman and TJ Brodie.

But it was by committee, too, with rookies Josh Jooris and Markus Granlund stepping up to compliment Calgary’s top line. The likes of Mikael Backlund, Joe Colborne and David Jones found ways to contribute on the secondary scoring front, too.

Those tasked with keeping opposing shooters at bay, Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller (and, at times, Joni Ortio), did just that. And while no true No. 1 goalie emerged, the Hiller-Ramo tandem served its purpose in creating crease competition and keeping Calgary in the thick of the chase.

The blend of timely scoring and clutch saves gave the Flames plenty to pull for and, as a result, Calgary was never out of a game. Ten times the Flames found themselves trailing after two periods, only to rally and claim two points. An NHL-leading 13 times Calgary fell behind after 20 minutes and found the same result -- two points.

Like the Flames, resiliency abounds in the Canucks, too.

Losing their way a season ago, Vancouver regrouped and rallied their way back into the postseason after a one-year absence.

First year coach John Tortorella was replaced with rookie boss Willie Desjardins. It wasn’t the only change as Trevor Linden and Jim Benning joined the front office and gave the Canucks a new direction.

Joining that direction was goaltender Ryan Miller, signed via free agency to be the backbone of the franchise and form a formidable tandem with Eddie Lack. Radim Vrbata, another unrestricted free agent signee, was added to help balance Vancouver’s offensive attack.

Those expecting a continued decline of Henrik and Daniel Sedin were proved wrong, as the Swedish twins returned to form, to form one of the League’s most potent pairs.

Vancouver’s blue line found a way to step up, as did new contributors like Bo Horvat, plucked just three picks after Monahan in the 2013 NHL Draft.

New Canucks and old meshed to turn around what many projected to be a franchise trending in the wrong direction.

And it’s set the stage for an intriguing first round match up in the Western Conference quarterfinal.

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