Bob was saying these games are so crucial and these are pretty much like playoff games. As long as I’m playing the right way in these little games that he feels could be playoffs games then I think it’ll definitely help me improve and hopefully eventually make playoffs. - Johnny Gaudreau
CALGARY, AB -- A playoff push is serving the youth of the Calgary Flames just fine.
In the thick of chasing down their first playoff appearance since 2009, the likes of Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Lance Bouma and Josh Jooris are seeing their development spurred on with meaningful games in February.
“This is part of the plan. This is why we play,” Flames coach Bob Hartley said following Tuesday’s skate. “We all dream as kids of winning a Stanley Cup. I’ve won many Stanley Cups in street hockey championship games or basement games or pond hockey games. You realize a dream to be in the NHL and you work hard, you spend a summer preparing yourself for training camp, you have a good training camp, you get on a good run and here we are in early February.
“You have to get to the big dance, you have to get in the playoffs and suddenly you have a chance at Lord Stanley and you have a city that’s going crazy. That’s the fun. I think it’s more a challenge than a pressure situation. It’s a challenge we have to enjoy and embrace and we’re a bunch of young players. Lets go for it.”
Entering action Tuesday, Calgary sits third in the Pacific Division and one point up on the Vancouver Canucks, who have three games at hand. The Flames also trail the Winnipeg Jets by one point for sixth in the Western Conference with one game at hand.
Competitive games have helped push Calgary’s youth along.
“This is my first season so it’s a completely new thing for me, the playoff race,” said Gaudreau, currently third in Flames scoring with 38 points in 50 games. “When I was at Boston College, most teams made the tournament no matter what. This year is a little bit different for me. I’m just excited to be part of something like that.
“Bob was saying these games are so crucial and these are pretty much like playoff games. As long as I’m playing the right way in these little games that he feels could be playoffs games then I think it’ll definitely help me improve and hopefully eventually make playoffs.
“Now it’s a playoff push here. It’s a new experience for me and something I definitely need to learn from.”
Brandon Bollig, acquired by the Flames last summer, knows what a winning feeling can do for development.
As a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, Bollig saw it first hand.
“I was lucky enough my first couple years to play on a team that won a lot and I got a good amount of playoff experience,” said Bollig, who won a Cup with Chicago in 2013. “That’s huge for any young kid. I don’t think there’s anything like playoff hockey. Getting some young guys those experience here in their first year would be huge for their careers.
“Some of the young guys, they definitely shine when some people may have expected them to kind of disappear. The young guys have been great this year and that’s a big reason for our success.”
GAUDREAU AVOIDS SCARE
Gaudreau got different type of learning experience in Monday’s 5-2 win against the Jets. Late in the first period, the 21-year-old rookie got tangled up with the skate of Jets forward Bryan Little.
“Instantly I felt something on my wrist and I felt it was a skate blade along my skin there because my hand opened up,” Gaudreau said. “My first instinct was a little bit nervous there so I just checked down to see if everything was alright. I saw a little scratch there and I thought it wasn’t too bad.
“I took a second glance and blood started coming out. That’s when I got a little bit nervous and rushed off the ice.”
Fortunately for Gaudreau and the Flames, the cut wasn’t serious.
But it did serve as a reminder for Gaudreau and his teammates to take some extra precaution on the ice.
“It’s my own fault,” Gaudreau said. “The equipment managers here, they give everyone those little wrist guards and they’re pretty much skate proof and help prevent cuts. I’m not used to wearing it. I didn’t think it would ever happen to me. That’s part of hockey. I’m going to start wearing those little skate protector things and hopefully they prevent it from happening next time.”
Many already take preventative measures. Mikael Backlund, for example, sports Kevlar socks that help limit the chance of a skate blade slicing the leg or Achilles area.
They've recently served their purpose, too.
“A few games ago, Mikael Backlund is wearing those protective socks,” Hartley said. “The sock was basically destroyed and Backs just had kind of a scratch. Those skates today, with technology, gosh, they’re sharp like knives. You need to protect yourself.
“Players always think that it won’t happen to them but we got lucky with Johnny.”
BLOCKING OUT BLOCKS
While there are preventative measures to avoid some injuries, Kris Russell isn’t shy to throw himself into harm’s way for others. He currently leads the NHL with 161 blocks, including nine Monday against Winnipeg.
It’s par for the course for the alternate captain.
“I don’t think about it,” Russell said. “It’s just a part of the game. I think everyone on our team has welcomed it. It’s something that we have to do and keep doing to get wins. That’s why we’ve been successful defensively. Guys are willing to do that.”
Just because Russell doesn’t think about it, though, doesn’t mean it goes unnoticed.
“Kris, lots of times, from the outside eyes he goes unnoticed but from the coaching staff, from his teammates, he’s the ultimate warrior,” Hartley said. “He does so many great things that people don’t always see. He’s always ready to battle. He’s quite the competitor. I’m never surprised by Kris’ game.
"He’s one of our players that, talking about consistency, he’s always there. He never goes way down. We can always count on his game and that’s so important.”
NOTES: Jonas Hiller is expected to get the start when Calgary welcomes the San Jose Sharks to Scotiabank Saddledome…Sam Bennett skated with teammates for the second consecutive day…Neither Curtis Glencross nor David Wolf skated with the main group Tuesday.