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Flames will rely on Neal for playoff production, guidance

First-year Calgary forward has played in 100 postseason games, past two Stanley Cup Finals

by Aaron Vickers / NHL.com Correspondent

CALGARY -- James Neal had a disappointing first season with the Calgary Flames, but as the most playoff-tested player on the Pacific Division-winning club, he's hoping to make his biggest impact in the postseason.

The Flames (50-25-7), who finished with the best record in the Western Conference for the first time since 1988-89 when it won its only Stanley Cup, will play Game 1 against the Colorado Avalanche at Scotiabank Saddledome on Thursday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS, ALT).

"Sometimes you change teams and you move on to different places and you go out and you start lighting it up right away, and sometimes you change teams and have tough times adjusting and you're put in different roles and doing different things," said Neal, who signed a five-year, $28.75 million contract with Calgary last summer.

 

[RELATED: Complete Flames vs. Avalanche series coverage]

 

"Sometimes that's hard. It was a combination of those things for me. At the end of the day, I came here to win. Our team is winning. I was enjoying myself regardless of … obviously it's tough when your play isn't where you want it to be, but we have a great group of guys and I enjoy being around this team and I've enjoyed my time."

Neal had 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in 63 games this season, his lowest point total and the first time he's failed to score at least 21 goals in his 11-year NHL career. 

But despite the regular-season struggles, Neal will be relied upon to lead the way moving forward. 

He leads the Flames with 100 games of Stanley Cup Playoff experience. The rest of the group collectively has 169.

After Michael Frolik's 42 games, which includes a Stanley Cup win with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013, no other skater has more than 19 games, and eight players will make their playoff debut Thursday.

Video: Flames' turnaround heading into Stanley Cup Playoffs

Naturally, they'll lean on Neal.

"This is his time of year," said forward Matthew Tkachuk, who has four games of playoff experience. "This is going to be the time of year that he's going to step up. He's done it in the past. We're excited to see it firsthand. We're really lucky to have him and all his knowledge right now.

"He's a guy that's been there. He's a guy that we're asking questions right now. Some of us have a little taste but not a big taste of it. It's all about momentum with him. It's all about being disciplined and controlling your emotions."

Neal has recent experience to draw on. He has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in each of the past two seasons. 

He played with the Nashville Predators in the 2017 Final, won by the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games, and with the Golden Knights in the 2018 Final, won by the Washington Capitals in five games.

Neal is hoping to get back there again, with a better result.

Video: CGY@LAK: Neal beats Quick early in 3rd

"This is my third different team. It's different on every team," said Neal, who has 55 points (31 goals, 24 assists) in his playoff career.

"It's different in every aspect. I think that's what makes it so exciting. For me, it's a clean slate. It's a chance to prove yourself again. There's no better time than having a great playoff run and helping your team win. 

"I want to win a Stanley Cup. Every team at the start of the year says that but not every team makes the playoffs. It's hard to make the playoffs. We've done a great job to put ourselves in the playoffs, and we truly have a chance to do a lot of special things here and win." 

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