CALGARY, AB -- It's a given - every team in NHL has ups and downs throughout the 82-game season. Some have more dramatic highs and lows than others and during the 2010-11 campaign, that was case with the Calgary Flames.
A dismal start that included just four wins in the month of November. A flicker of life in December. An almost unbelievable turnaround to kick off the first month of 2011. A dynamic February in which the boys in red lost a mere two games in regulation. A stutter in their step in the month of March thanks to some injuries and losses in close games.
Finally, defiance in the face of all odds in April, refusing to give up despite the fact nothing seemed to go in their favour.
As the regular season comes to a close, the Flames sit in 10th place in the Western Conference. On paper, this looks disappointing and while it stings for Jarome Iginla's squad to miss the playoffs by a few points, an overall feeling of pride pervades the locker room.
"The last three months, last three and a half months, the last 50 games, I think our record is somewhere close to the top five teams in the League. As tough as this is, there's more optimism then there was at the end of last year," Iginla said.
"I think we've gotten to be a better team. We've learned some things and come a long way ... We've learned a lot as a team. I think we're a good team. We can still get better but we're a good team. I am definitely optimistic that we are getting better."
There is no question the Flames dreadful start is to blame for missing the postseason and Iginla had no qualms in admitting his team's inability to get themselves into games early on was the proverbial iceberg that sunk the ship.
"We have a good team. Unfortunately we were two different teams this year as far as from the first 30 games on," Iginla exposited after Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. "We dug ourselves too big a hole.
"We had some key injuries and I know teams go through that but unfortunately, we weren't able to get our feet under us quick enough when we were at .500 or just under .500 for ten games there."
The team came a point shy of reaching their goal of 95 on the season and while Iginla believes a sense of accomplishment will carry his crew through the summer, he admitted the next week will be the most unpleasant portion of their off-season.
"Unfortunately, we're out of the playoffs and that is hard to take. It's been hard to take the last few days but it's going to be even harder for awhile as we watch everyone gear up ... it's tough."
Like the club, Iginla had an incredibly slow start. In his first 16 games, the 33 year-old had three goals to his name and was a minus-six. Rumors of trades swirled while people predicted the captain was "washed up." Then, like the club, he was able to get back on track and prove the naysayers wrong while etching his name in history books along the way.
In 82 games played, Iginla scored 43 goals, marking the fourth time in his career he's surpassed the 40+ mark, and 86 points. He's third in the NHL in goals scored and sixth in overall points.
On Apr. 1, Iginla was able to notch three points against the St. Louis Blues and with that output, recorded his 1000th point of his career. That particular milestone is only shared by 76 others throughout the history of the NHL.
While his praise to his team in regards to their midseason turnaround was nothing short of effusive, Iginla took a more mild-mannered approach about his own year.
"It's been a good year," he nodded. "I really do appreciate hitting (milestones) ... but it's something to look back on after (my career)."
The affable veteran added one more feather to his cap on Saturday night when his second period goal tied him with Lanny McDonald for 75th in all-time scoring in the NHL.
It may be bittersweet to achieve such accomplishments without the promise of the postseason but Iginla has taken it in stride. Instead, he's focused in on the positive aspects of his team's season and how they refused to quit, even when they were officially out of the running.
"Since we've been eliminated, it's tough definitely but guys came and played hard. We didn't mail it in."