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Upstart Flames earn date in Disneyland

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- The Calgary Flames are going to Disneyland.

And rebuild road is taking them there.

Just two seasons into tearing down a veteran roster and swapping pieces like Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay, Jay Bouwmeester and Miikka Kiprusoff for Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and Kris Russell, the Flames accomplished what they’ve only done once since hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup in 1989.

Work their way out of the first round.

"I don't know what to say," said Flames forward Matt Stajan, whose goal with 4:17 remaining broke a 4-4 tie and served as the eventual series clincher in a dramatic Game 6 of the Western Conference First Round series against the Vancouver Canucks.

"We found a way. A win's a win this time of year. To eliminate a team like that, it's not easy.

"We persevered through. We're able to move on."

To the second round.

The Flames, making their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2009, haven’t escaped the first round since losing in heartbreaking fashion to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2004.

Until now.

Now, they’ll meet the Anaheim Ducks in the NHL’s Western Conference Second Round best-of-7 series.

“We’re going to celebrate tonight our victory in the first round,” coach Bob Hartley said. “Tomorrow morning I’ll start worrying about the Ducks. Lets give credit to our players. I think they deserve it.

“This season is way bigger than the game. From day one of camp, what we invested in those players, the way that those players represent not only this organization but also this community. They never stop. Our players are role models. I have so much respect for my group and I have to say that in my books this team ranks as probably one of the most enjoyable bunch of athletes to work with. Not only they're great hockey players or great athletes but they are unbelievable human beings.

“We know we can count on them every day -- whether it's practices, whether it's meetings. I don't think we had a single guy late for a meeting this year. That speaks volumes of who we are and I think that looking at this team, looking at this community, I'm having lots of fun.”

Instead of competed for Connor McDavid, the Flames moved one step closer to compete for Lord Stanley. It’s not a position many expected entering the season some seven months ago.

But it was the position Calgary found themselves in in mid-April, earning a playoff berth by knocking off the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings to punch a ticket.

Fitting that it took a come-from-behind victory against the Canucks in Game 6 to extend the surprising season.

Down 3-0 just nine minutes into the affair at Scotiabank Saddledome, the Flames erased the deficit only to fall behind 4-3 again. Trailing by that mark heading into the third period, Calgary engineered their second win in the series when trailing after 40 minutes to rally to a 7-4 decision.

The Flames accomplished the feat a franchise record 10 times in the regular season. Only the Ducks (12) and Detroit Red Wings (11) orchestrated more in 2014-15.

“We understand the situation we were in, and we looked at this game like it was a must-win,” said Monahan. “It’s on home ice, and we could knock them out and move on to the second round. We were still excited on the bench when we were down 3-0, and we wanted to win. We did what we could — pushed back and found a way.

“We don’t pack it in.”

But they will pack.

For Disneyland.

And Round 2, with dates still to be determined.

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