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Flames' playoff clinch means Giordano will see first post-season action since 2007

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

On that night, nearly a full decade ago, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Lidstrom, Holmstrom and the rest of the Winged Wheel gang used Miikka Kiprusoff as whatever the Finnish equivalent of a piñata might be.

For closing in on 85 minutes of non-stop machine-gun bursts, the silent superstar goaltender had been riddled with more rounds of ammo than Bonnie and Clyde's stolen getaway car on that lonely stretch of rural road in Bienville ParishLouisiana in May of 1934.

"Kipper,'' recalls Mark Giordano with a sense of wonder, "was unbelievable. But that was Kipper.

"The other thing that really stays with you is how good Detroit really was."

"But Kipper, he could steal a game for you. Or a series. And he almost did that year. 

"You can't forget a goaltending performance like that."

April 22, 2007.

That night, the Mule - Johan Franzen - ended Game 6 and the Flames- Red Wings conference quarter-final 4:23 into the second OT period, 2-1.

By then, Kiprusoff had been pelted with 55 Red Wing pellets. 

It surely ranks among the greatest goaltending performances in franchise lore.

What's largely forgotten, if slightly unbelievable and grossly unfair, is the fact it also marked the last time Mark Giordano participated in a playoff game for the Flames.

Until now.

Date, time, location still TBA.

But pencil him in, coach. He's ready. And way overdue.

So, April 22, 2007. Feel like just yesterday or 100 years ago?

"A hundred years ago, to be honest,'' confesses the skipper.

In the interim, circumstance and deplorable luck conspired against him.

The career games-played stat-line: 670 regular-season games, four playoff games, all from the 2007 Detroit series - must be a misprint.

But no.

"That's crazy,'' says Kris Versteeg, a Stanley Cup winner in Chicago, of No. 5's decade-long playoff absence. "He's such a special player. One of the best captains I've been around. There's a lot of good fortune that goes into the playoffs, being in a good situation first and foremost, on a good team.

"Myself, I've been lucky that way.

"Mark has been on the other end, being in a rebuilding situation or bad luck with injuries.

"He's such a great guy, such a good leader, such a great player. I know we're all it for guys like him, who've earned the right, put in the time and deserve to be there."

Following the 2007 playoffs, Giordano was unable to come to contract terms with GM Darryl Sutter, remember, and spent a nomadic winter brushing up on Cyrillic for Moscow Dynamo of the Russian Super League as Calgary faced the Chicago Blackhawks in Round 1 of 2008.

A year later, back in the Flames' fold, he blew out a shoulder and underwent surgery on Feb. 23, ruling him out of a six-game opening-round loss to the San Jose Sharks.

There followed five consecutive years of not qualifying.

Then two springtimes ago, by now captain and the group's undisputed commander-in-chief, a torn bicep tendon suffered on a freak incident Feb. 25 at New Jersey ended Giordano's greatest individual season prematurely and another trip to the playoffs.

Reduced to unwilling spectator again.

Once more a part, yet apart.

"The one two years ago," concedes Giordano, "stung. We were having a great year and it happened right at the end.

"The first time, when we were going in to play Chicago, it was tough.

"The last one, though, was really tough.

"You get the atmosphere but you don't get the feel unless you're on the ice. Playoffs are the fun time. You want to be a part of it. The guys were great to me, the team was great to me, I was around a lot, but it's not the same.

"It's tough when you win because you want to be a part of it. And it's tough when you lose because you think you can help."

The mishap couldn't have been more of a fluke. Late in a 3-1, tripped up by Steve Bernier as he went to play the puck deep in the defensive zone, Giordano toppled awkwardly into the boards. He put out the arm for protection and …

"I remember it vividly, like it was yesterday,'' sighs GM Brad Treliving, as if revisiting some particularly graphic horror clip. "In Jersey, walking down to the dressing room, and everybody standing around, very quiet, shaking their heads, 'No, no …' Then seeing him, he knew it was over.

"He was just … devastated. We were just devastated.

"When we did clinch the spot, you could tell that as excited as he was for the team, it hurt. So bad. Just rips your heart out, right?

"Someone that good, that competitive, should be in playoffs. Playoffs are built for people like Mark Giordano."

The rest of Pacific Division and Western Conference, it goes without saying, wasn't nearly so despondent.

"I remember when he went out,'' says his current boss Glen Gulutzan, an assistant in Vancouver back in 2015. "We thought 'OK, they're going to be hurtin' now.' But they picked up (Richard) Schlemko and Engy picked up minutes and just kept going.

"Then in the playoffs, from a Canucks perspective, we knew no Mark Giordano helped our chances immeasurably. You can't replace a guy like that.

"In the end, we didn't get the job done but at the time we thought his absence was a door we could go through.

"That just shows the amount of respect the Vancouver organization - every organization, I'm sure - has for Mark Giordano as a player."

Teammate and friend Matt Stajan understands the latent frustration involved. He went through a 10-year postseason-less run himself from his rookie season as a Maple Leaf, through to 2015 as a Flame.

"You play so hard all these years,'' says Stajan, "especially Gio, who throws it all out there every night, and then you can't play when it counts the most, when it's most fun, when everyone wants to be playing?

"It sucks. What else can you say?

"So he's one guy I'm really excited for, happy for. We talk a lot and I know this is something he's waited a long time for for. Our whole group …. it hasn't been a regular occurrence here, being in the playoffs.

"So you want to go after it.

"We got a taste of it two years ago, so we're all excited, especially for our captain who deserves it more than anybody."

That seems to be a theme in the Flames dressing room.

"Everybody wants to see the top guys in the league at that time of year,'' says Gulutzan. "Because that's when they shine, a showcase. When the level is raised, the stakes are bigger, the games are tougher and everybody's watching.

"And Gio's a top guy in this league."

So much as Giordano deserves playoffs, playoffs deserve Giordano, too.

The Mule, Franzen, and Kiprusoff - the lead actors of that long-ago Game 6 at the 'Dome - are retired now. In fact, only two players off that Flames' team, Dion Phaneuf and Jarome Iginla, remain active NHL participants.

So, yes, the ol' world has taken a few twirls since then, since April 22nd, 2007.

Closing in on 10 ("Seems like 100") years later, Mark Giordano returns to the party.

About time, too.

He's not in the least bitter or reflective or despairing about the inordinate length of the wait.

"Just happy to be back in the playoffs …"

Then, by way of needless clarification, just in case you hadn't been paying attention of late:

"On the ice."


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