We’re not going in it just to throw our hat in the ring and see what happens. We’re going in to win. As a group all year, we expected big things from ourselves and it doesn’t change. - Kris Russell
Four 82 games, the goal was to ensure the right to play at least four more.
The goal has changed.
No longer are the Calgary Flames satisfied with just making it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“It’s big to make the playoffs,” Kris Russell said. “It doesn’t matter who you are. An 82-game schedule with the amount of talent that is in this league, to get the opportunity to play in the playoffs is huge.
“Internally we believed in our system, we believed in the players in our room. It goes to show when you have that belief and you have guys working together as a team effort, as we do every night, it goes a long way. With that, we believed.
“Getting in the playoffs is one thing but we want to prove we can compete in it and can win in it. I think that’s our biggest challenge.”
Few prognosticators peered into a crystal ball and gave the plucky Calgary club a chance of reaching the initial goal in preseason.
Fewer suggested the Flames could rebound from an eight-game losing skid in December to salvage a playoff spot.
Virtually none tossed in a vote of confidence when captain Mark Giordano sustained a torn biceps injury, ending a Norris Trophy caliber season prematurely.
Through it all, those on the inside never wavered from the goal.
“I don’t live my life proving people wrong,” coach Bob Hartley started. “I try to prove the people who believe in me, the people who hired me, the people who are my bosses, our fans that come in our rink, those are the people you have to prove right. For me, there’s a much bigger sense of feeling good about the situation looking at the people who believed in us.
“It’s all part of the game; it’s all part of the job, and you’re going to get some detractors. There are going to be people who like you, who don’t like you. That’s life. At the same time we drew a positive picture early on right at camp. It is what it is but as long as we believe on the inside, lets do it for ourselves, lets do it for our fans, lets do it for the people who believe in us.
“The people who don’t believe in us, we can’t change our mind and we can’t do anything. Lets do it for us.”
Hartley’s group did, shrugging off the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings on Thursday to punch their ticket into the postseason, the first such time Calgary will participate in the year-end festivities since 2009.
And the hungry Flames haven’t appeased their appetite yet.
“We accomplished that goal but you’ve always got to make new ones,” said forward David Jones, who has 10 career playoff games under his belt -- all with the Colorado Avalanche. “I think we’re a team that has good depth and we’re built for this type of hockey. It feels like we’ve been playing playoff hockey for the past 30 games. There’s a lot of excitement going around.
“We felt we could play with anyone in this league. I think we’ve proven that. It’s nice to prove [media] wrong once and a while and to get there. We’ve got a new goal now and that’s the Stanley Cup. We’re in a good spot. One more game and we’ll be ready to go.”
The Flames’ new journey starts Wednesday against the Vancouver Canucks in the opening round of the playoffs.
It’s the same time Calgary’s new goal starts, too.
“At the start of training camp it was to get into the playoffs and now we’re there, we have a job to do,” Russell said. “We’re not going in it just to throw our hat in the ring and see what happens. We’re going in to win. As a group all year, we expected big things from ourselves and it doesn’t change.”
They believe again.