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Flames taking time to enjoy playoff clinch before trying to climb further up the standings

by AARON VICKERS @aavickers /

Brian Elliott watched from roughly 164 feet away.

He saw Sam Bennett hop out of the penalty box after serving two minutes for tripping.

The puck pop onto the stick of the 20-year-old, with no one between him and the opposing goal.

And the puck stop in the back of the net with 33.2 seconds remaining in regulation Friday night to clinch a berth in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.

How'd it feel?

"Pretty good," Elliott said following a 5-2 trumping of the San Jose Sharks, a win that'll see the Flames play post-season hockey for the second time in three years.

"You can hear the fans realize that it's over and it's just pretty cool, especially a guy coming out of the box. We killed off a penalty in the last two minutes, 6-on-4, and kind of solidified it.

"It was a good feeling back there."

The good feeling wasn't exclusive to those six on the ice.

"When Benny came out of the box and got the empty-netter," started coach Glen Gulutzan, "I watched all the guys stand up and start hugging each other when it went in. I could tell that they felt, probably a little bit the same as me.

"Special moment there, the guys were truly excited.

"It's something I'll remember for sure."

Two seasons ago when the homeside bested the Los Angeles Kings in Game No. 81 to punch their first playoff ticket since 2009, they did so without their captain.

Mark Giordano, sidelined with a torn biceps muscle, was relegated to cheerleader.

He was cheering again Friday, but this time from the bench.

"It's just excitement," Giordano said. "A little bit of relief too, to get it over with. You don't want to go into the last couple having to get it. It was nice to get it over with.

"Now there's excitement.

"Sharpen our game up a little bit and try to move up as much as we can."

Yes, there's still work to be done.

Calgary, idle Saturday following their clinching win against the Sharks, sit one point back of San Jose for third in the Pacific Division. The Flames are three back of the Edmonton Oilers for second, and four behind the Anaheim Ducks for the division lead.

The group has four dates remaining: two against the Ducks (including Sunday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome), and singles against the Kings and Sharks.

Onward and upward.

"We'll enjoy this," Giordano said. "We've had a lot of ups and downs this year but we found a lot of resilience through the latter half of the year. For us to clinch a spot is huge. There's a lot of four-point games coming up. We have a chance to move up.

"We'll refocus come the next time we're in, but we'll enjoy this one."

But bask in it for another day.

They've earned it.

"It's huge," Elliott said.

"Ever since I came here that was the goal.

"I was fortunate enough in St. Louis to be there five years in a row. I know how fun, how meaningful and how much it brings to the city to be in the playoffs. This is a big accomplishment.

"We've got to take it on a little bit and enjoy it, but we've still got some work to do."



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