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FUEL FOR THE FIRE

Flames can use early playoff exit as motivation next season

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

Not resigned to an unhappy fate. No, that wasn't it.

Not down. Nor demoralized.

Not by a long shot.

Nothing remotely resembling a 'Oh, woe is me' pity party. No railing, either, against the capricious whims of fate or pouty lower lips dangling perilously around fallen arches.

Dissatisfaction, more than anything, was the prevailing mood down at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Friday.

Ticked off.

"I'll have this feeling with me every time I skate in the summer, every time I work out,'' declared freshman Matthew Tkachuk.

"Not winning a game in the playoffs.

"The way the season ended was unfortunate but we have a longer summer to keep that bitter taste in our mouth, training as hard as we can, knowing we have a lot more to give."

That feeling of unfinished business, of leaving something important on the table that was there, within reach, should feed the Flames over the next four months.

Siphon fuel into their waking hours and haunt their nights.

"It's still fresh,'' admitted captain Mark Giordano. "It's not a fun day when you come in and clear out your locker. We'll regroup. 

"We'll use the summer again as time to get better and train and all that. Next year I hope that some of this feeling carries over."

As any Calgarians not then holed up in a cryogenic chamber or studying at a monastery in the wilds of Tibet vividly recalls, in the spring of 2015 the Flames ended five seasons of springtime suffering, dusting off the Vancouver Canucks in Round 1 before being briskly eliminated in five by the Anaheim Ducks.

This edition may have lasted six games fewer than that group but in terms of their talent, there's no comparison.

In each and every game this series, these Flames took the big, bad, built-to-go-the-distance Ducks to the wall.

"I look back to two years ago,'' recalled Calgary GM Brad Treliving during his late-afternoon post-season address in the Ed Whalen Media Lounge. "I thought we were overwhelmed.

"This time, I don't think we were overwhelmed at all. At certain critical times we didn't get things done to a certain extent. Maybe a bounce here or a bounce there.

"But I firmly believe you make your own luck.

"Obviously we lost to a real good team. We think we should be still be playing here tonight. But we're not.

"That's the reality.

"As difficult as the last 48 hours has been, there's lots to be proud of, lots to look forward to.

"We've got to come back here and raise the bar. I think it's time that we raised the bar."

Right winger Troy Brouwer, a Stanley Cup winner in the Windy City, believes the time for a clear chin-up on the heightened bar Brad Treliving speaks of is fast approaching.

"Not far,'' he estimated.

"If we didn't necessarily have that lull at the beginning of the season and that tough start then we're a 100-plus point team and we get home ice and maybe we're feeling a little bit more confident about ourselves. That's one thing. 

"We're already thinking about next year. We want to have a lot better start, obviously, but the potential of this team … and I said this last year on Day 1 when I became a Flame, is I love the potential of this hockey club. 

"We're going in the right direction. We've got a little bit more playoff experience. Would've liked a little bit more. A lot of the pieces are in place. We're going to continue to get better and guys are going to continue to work hard individually to get better and when we come back in September, collectively get better."

The horizon, they all fervently believe, is wide and welcoming.

"Getting swept,'' emphasized centre Sean Monahan, "is going to sting all summer.

"When you get swept it's no fun.

"You don't plan on going home or the season being over this early. It feels weird."

On the day of exit interviews down at the 'Dome, the overriding sense from the vanquished was one of dissatisfaction.

Allow this sense of dissatisfaction from the four-game sweep to incubate, to drive them forward. Don't conveniently forget how Friday felt.

Remember.

Matthew Tkachuk, speaking for the collective, can't wait to get back at it and make amends.

"You're going to have this playoff in the back of your mind,'' he confessed, "until you get to experience it again."

 

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