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'IT'S SOUR RIGHT NOW'

Captain best sums up feelings of players after first-round series loss

by GEORGE JOHNSON @NHLFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

A feeling of hollowness, of dissatisfaction and disbelief, that raw ache, the dull, gnawing sensation of opportunity lost, will take some time to dissipate.

"It's going," admitted Mark Giordano softly, still looking a bit stunned by the sudden, irretrievable swiftness of it all, "to be a long summer.

"A tough one to swallow.

"It's sour right now.

"The season we had, we're not expecting to go out in five games, in the first round. First in the West and the conference, obviously you come in with a lot of confidence.

"We couldn't, just couldn't, find a way to break through.

"At 5-1 in the third, with about five minutes left, you realize you're probably not coming back and a lot of thoughts go through your mind.

"It's tough to explain right now.

"We never had this feeling, not all year.

"We couldn't execute properly. We couldn't score. We couldn't make the big plays at the big times. We were doing that all year.

"Nobody saw this coming, for sure."

A regular-season of refurbishment, revitalization - 50 wins, 107 points - that had the Flames armed with such possibilities, such a broad blue horizon, as this post-season opened ended in disappointment.

Eliminated in five games by a worthy Colorado Avalanche brigade, the Flames were trimmed 5-1 Friday night in a must-have situation. 

Maybe coach Bill Peters summed up the prevailing mood best.

"It got to be, for our team, the harder we tried, the deeper the hole,'' he said, trying to explain the sense of swimming against the current.

"I think it got away from us a little bit. And when it did the frustration showed."

 

Video: "You can't move on just being average."

 

No one personified the hurt more than 35-year-old captain Giordano, this group's emotional and competitive fulcrum, who felt - with justification - that at long last this would finally be the springtime he'd be part of a deep playoff run.

"We won Game 1 and then those overtime losses, although we weren't at our best in those games, if we can squeak one of them out we're in a different mindset,'' he said of blown leads late that led to OT heartbreak in Games 2 and 4.

"I thought we were in the right mindset tonight. We generated a lot more, especially through the first half of the game and then they got up 3-1, 4-1.

"They have a good team. They're going to be tough for anybody."

A nimble Gabriel Landeskog deflection of a Tyson Barrie point shot past Smith 9:40 in got the Avalanche off and rolling in constructing 2-0 and 4-1 intermission advantages.

"It's … tough,'' murmured defenceman Travis Hamonic. "Just kind of snowballed a little bit.

"I thought tonight we came out with some jump, some energy, and they got a couple weird ones at the start. I thought our first 10-12 minutes were a pretty good push. I think we were confident the entire time, which is weird to say. Going into every game.

"But we weren't good enough. Obviously.

"We believe in this group. We believe in our players and what we have in this locker-room. So it's frustrating standing here now.

"These aren't the conversations we want to be having, whatsoever. There's no right answer to be giving you right now.

"It's a crummy feeling. An empty feeling. Something we've got to sit with for a long time."

 

Video: "We have a great group of guys in here."

 

Nothing seemed to go right for the locals Friday. Somewhat symbolically, scoring whiz Johnny Gaudreau's three great chances came up empty - a missed penalty shot, stopped on another breakaway by Avs' goalie Philipp Grubauer and a goal (challenged, unsuccessfully) chalked off for goaltender interference.

To blame the outcome on the whims of capricious hockey gods, though, would be a cruel disservice to the Avalanche.

They were opportunistic, resilient and, for long stretches of time, dominant. The big three horses - Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Landeskog - were magnificent in combining for 21 points over the five fixtures, a table-tipping seven in Friday's series closer.

Particularly the magnificent MacKinnon.

"For anyone who doesn't think he's one of the best, if not THE best, might want to look at this series because he can really turn it on, up to another level,'' praised Giordano graciously.

"He really took control.

"I've played against him a lot but this and he's a great player but this is a whole different level we saw out there this playoff.

"He gets my vote for best player left in the game and one of the best players, period. He totally took over.

"Connor, Sid, he's right up there with those two."

 

Video: "It's a crummy feeling."

 

When the dust clears, the shock subsides, the process of taking stock will begin. It has been, as noted, a season of refurbishment and revilitization down at the Saddledome.

In time, the broader picture always comes into sharper focus. 

In time.

Right now, the pain is too immediate. And will be, they all realize, for a while.

"I'm not going to sit here and say why we lost," sighed goaltender Mike Smith, hoping for a better result in his first trip to the post-season in seven years.

"They were the better team. We didn't play up to our capabilities.

"It's just such a disappointing feeling right now.

"You work so hard. It felt like you'd climbed so many mountains during the season …

"This is a great group in here, a great bunch of guys who care. It just didn't pan out.

"It's tough. To have to play 82 more games to get back to this level ... well, that puts it in perspective pretty quickly."

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