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BUCKLE UP, FOLKS!

It's been an incredible regular-season run for the Flames, who look to carry that momentum into the playoffs

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

Clambering off the black toboggan sleds on a picture-postcard-perfect late September afternoon, delight was written on every face.

A breakneck three-minute twisting slalom down a track carved out of trees and foliage down the Mutianyu section side of the Great Wall of China being able to lessen even the most acute pangs of homesickness.

"A once-in-a-lifetime ride," agreed a grinning Mark Giordano at the bottom of the run.

Just you wait, skipper …

From the murkiness of uncertainty and change before setting off for the Far East to the fancy accoutrements of a penthouse view atop both the Pacific Division and Western Conference.

From 84 points to 107 (and counting), second highest total in franchise annals. From 26th spot in goals scored (218) to second (288). A prodigious +64 goals for/against ratio.

From being one of those 15 kids with their noses pressed forlornly against the window outside the playoff party altogether to front and centre in the queue for the biggest slice of cake.

A first division title in 13 years, and a first conference banner in 29. From home alone to home ice.

Now that is one wild ride.

A six-month gasp-inducer worthy of the most nimble tech minds at Disney theme parks.

As the playoffs beckon, so many aspects of these Flames have turned out to be so remarkable over the course of this year of restoration and renewal.

Chief among their number, Giordano. While always solid and inspirational, this season's he's been off-the-charts good.

 

 

At a career high 74 points, a towering, league table-topping +39 and nearly 25 minutes of responsibility per night in every situation imaginable, he's simply been the best this year at what he does. 

With all due respect to the rest of a solid collection of candidates, a hands-down most Norris Trophy-worthy season. At 35 years young.

Then there's the surprisingly quick acclimatization to the Bill Peters way of doing business to consider. The bonding of recruit Elias Lindholm as third spoke to the tried-and-true partnership of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan has been a resounding success. Johnny Hockey's continuing assault (one game left, two points shy) in becoming the first Flame since Theo Fleury to reach the century mark has proven an imagination-catcher.

From Travis Hamonic's warrior-like battle level to Matthew Tkachuk's ongoing evolution. From Derek's Ryan's handy-dandy versatility to Garnet Hathaway's edgy physicality and Mark Jankowski's five shorties to the rise of Rasmus Andersson and Andrew Mangipane to difference-making everyday NHLers.

The resolute collective commitment displayed in the wake of a numbing 9-1, Oct. 25 home loss to Pittsburgh to pull the ship off the rocks and steer it back out into open water, amassing 96 points (45-19-6) since then. And the development of a four-line scoring attack more balanced than seen hereabouts in years.

It's all been quite eye-popping.

You partial to West End of London-quality drama? Third-period comebacks have figured large in the story, these guys wriggling themselves out of more tight spots than Indiana Jones.

 

 

Arguably the most impressive aspect from a team standpoint, though, has been a stout level of consistency in both results and performance.

Extremely difficult to do through the ins and outs, ups and downs, grit-and-grind of a tightly-compacted 82-game fixture list.

Maybe it's whiz-bang entertainment you're after? Connecting for five or more goals in 25 games, twice for nine and on five different occasions for seven should tickle your fancy. Positively '80s-like, those numbers.

Among the memorable individual turns, Gaudreau's six-point splurge (3G,3A) to gut New Jersey on March 12 (one point off the franchise record) and Tkachuk's five points only three evenings later in a body-slam of the NY Rangers rank high.

Only one regular-season appointment remains, of course, the Edmonton Oilers making the trek north to pay a visit Saturday at the Scotiabank Saddledome. 

Then, playoffs. So safety bar in position, please.

Buckle up.

Because as wild as it's been so far, hold on, the ride's only going to accelerate.

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