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Surprising Flames have most finalists at NHL Awards

by Dan Rosen

LAS VEGAS -- At first, Calgary Flames forward Jiri Hudler asked a question.

"Would you have guessed that before the season?" Hudler said.

The answer is no; it's unlikely anybody would have guessed that the team that would have the most representatives eligible to win trophies Wednesday at the 2015 NHL Awards (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports) would be the Flames.

How could anyone have anticipated that considering so little was expected of the Flames this season after they finished the 2013-14 season with 77 points and a plan to play younger players and continue on a massive rebuild?

The Flames certainly weren't expected to compete for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, let alone get one.

Hudler felt differently.

He said Tuesday from the MGM Grand Garden Arena, where the awards show will take place, that he actually did expect the Flames to be well represented in the race for postseason hardware because he thought they'd have a strong season.

Hudler was correct; the Flames made the playoffs and are the only team with a chance to take home as many as four trophies Wednesday. Coach Bob Hartley is up for the Jack Adams Award, forward Johnny Gaudreau is a finalist for the Calder Memorial Trophy, captain Mark Giordano can win the NHL Foundation Player Award, and Hudler is up for the Lady Byng Trophy.

It's likely that Giordano would also be a finalist for the Norris Trophy if he didn't miss the last 21 games of the regular season because of surgery to repair a torn biceps tendon.

"It was a team thing as a whole, but because of different individual accomplishments, that's why we were where we were," Giordano said. "When a team has success, it's the biggest cliché, but individuals get recognized. That's what's happening."

It happened to the Colorado Avalanche in 2013-14, when nothing much was expected of them at the start of the season.

The Avalanche and the Tampa Bay Lightning each had four finalists at the 2014 NHL Awards, tied for most in the League. The Lightning, who were expected to be good, were shut out; Colorado, which had the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, had three of its four representatives win after it finished first in the Central Division with 112 points.

Patrick Roy received the Jack Adams Award, Ryan O'Reilly received the Lady Byng Trophy, and Nathan MacKinnon won the Calder Trophy. Semyon Varlamov was the first runner-up for the Vezina Trophy behind Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins.

However, Colorado is the cautionary tale for Calgary on what can happen if you don't follow up a surprisingly strong season with another one. The Avalanche's inability to maintain possession eventually cost them; they missed the playoffs this season and have nobody here in Vegas up for an award this year.

Colorado was minus-984 in shot-attempts differential (SAT) this season and allowed 33.2 shots on goal per game. Calgary was minus-839 in SAT and allowed 29.2 shots on goal.

The Flames reached the playoffs mainly because of their comeback ability. They led the League with 108 goals, including nine in overtime, and a plus-36 goal differential after the second period. They were third with 10 wins in games that they trailed going into the third period.

"We have to be better," Hartley said. "We look around the League, look around our conference to see what's going on, but we have to focus and commit even more to what we've been doing and what has been allowing us to be successful. Let's face it, we made the playoffs and we made it to the second round. It might have been a surprise to many people, but for us we just went over the passing grade.

"Next year it won't be about confidence; it's going to be more about performance and facing off with our expectations."

Those expectations, internally and externally, are sure to be higher now that the Flames not only made the playoffs, but reached the Western Conference Second Round before losing in five games to the Anaheim Ducks.

Gaudreau had 64 points, tied for the most points among rookies with Ottawa Senators forward Mark Stone, who is also a finalist for the Calder Trophy along with Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad. Gaudreau's 40 assists were the most among rookies.

Hudler was eighth in the League in scoring with a career-high 76 points (31 goals). His previous career-best was 57 with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008-09.

Giordano led NHL defensemen with 48 points through 61 games at the time he was injured and lost for the season.

In addition, forward Sean Monahan had 62 points, and the Flames had the highest scoring defense corps, led by Dennis Wideman's 56 points. TJ Brodie had 41 points, and Kris Russell had 34.

Calgary went 18-10-4 from February through the end of the regular season, including 12-6-3 without Giordano.

"In our own locker room, we knew that we were capable of what we pulled off this season," Gaudreau said. "I know a lot of people around the hockey world didn't expect what we did, but [Hudler] has a good eye for hockey, so it's a good call by him. It starts with Bob and how hard we work, how hard we play in games, and how we don't give up there in those late games."


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