The Calgary Flames made good use of their star players, a high-powered offense and ability to close out opponents to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
Johnny Gaudreau, a possible Hart Trophy candidate as the NHL's most valuable player at the end of the season, leads an offense that ranks fourth in the NHL this season in goals scored (256). Mark Giordano, a possible Norris Trophy candidate as the NHL's best defenseman, has helped guide the Flames to the second-highest winning percentage (.962) in the NHL among teams leading after two periods (25-1-0).
The Flames lead the NHL with 105 goals in the third period and are a plus-49 in third-period goal differential. They lead the Western Conference with 95 points and have the second-best goal differential (plus-50) in the NHL behind the Tampa Bay Lightning (plus-93).
[RELATED: Flames clinch Stanley Cup Playoff berth]
It's been quite a turnaround for a club that missed the playoffs and finished 22nd in the League with a minus-30 goal differential last season.
Here are five reasons the Flames clinched a playoff berth:
Gaudreau has eclipsed 80 points for a second straight season, and his NHL career-high 91 points (34 goals, 57 assists) set a Flames record for points by a left wing in a single season, eclipsing Gary Roberts (90 points) in 1991-92. The 25-year-old is now looking to become the first Flames player to score 100 points in a season since Theo Fleury in 1992-93.
His performance is a big reason the Flames have secured home-ice advantage, where they are 23-7-5 at Scotiabank Saddledome, in the opening round of the playoffs after missing the postseason last season. Gaudreau, who is tied for fifth in League scoring, leads the Flames in goals, assists, points, power-play points (27), game-winning goals (seven), overtime goals (three), Points Per 60 Minutes (3.76) and minor penalties drawn (37).
"Everyone fully understands his skill set and the vision, and what they don't understand is the competitiveness," Flames coach Bill Peters said. "And what he's added to his game a little bit more than what he's had in the past now is good defensive awareness and commitment."
He has benefitted playing alongside Sean Monahan much of the season. The 24-year-old center has established NHL career-high totals in assists (45), points (76), power-play goals (12) and power-play points (22). His 31 goals have tied his NHL career high.
Video: NYR@CGY: Gaudreau scores off Tkachuk's flip pass
Peters, hired as coach on April 23, 2018, after serving the same role with the Carolina Hurricanes for four non-playoff seasons, is a possible Jack Adams Award candidate as NHL coach of the year. Peters has a direct approach to structure and positioning, an enthusiasm for working with young players and is very attentive to details. Carolina always had plenty of puck possession under Peters but finished in the bottom 10 in the league in scoring in three of his four seasons there. The Flames, meanwhile, are fifth in the NHL with a 53.56 SAT percentage and tied for third with an 11.0 shooting percentage.
The Flames have more wins (44) and points (95) than they did last season, have improved to fourth (3.56) from 27th (2.63) in goals per game, and improved to 10th (2.81) from tied for 18th (2.96) in goals against under Peters.
Giordano the Great
Giordano, the Flames captain, is having his best season and could possibly join Nicklas Lidstrom (four times), Doug Harvey (three times) and Al MacInnis (once) as the fourth defenseman age 35 or older to win the Norris Trophy. The Flames have never had a Norris winner.
The 35-year-old is third among defensemen in scoring with an NHL career-high 67 points (14 goals, 53 assists). He averages 24:30 of ice time per game, leads NHL defenseman with three shorthanded goals and is plus-30, which is third among all players in the League.
Video: CGY@NJD: Giordano walks in and scores on the backhand
Special teams and players
The power play ranks 10th (21.3 percent) in the NHL with Gaudreau (27 power-play points), Elias Lindholm (26), Matthew Tkachuk (24), Monahan (22), and Giordano (21) leading the way.
Lindholm, the No. 5 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes, has set NHL career-high totals in goals (27), assists (50), and points (77). Tkachuk, a first-round pick (No. 6) in the 2016 NHL Draft, has established NHL career-highs in goals (32), assists (41) and points (73). He's the first player from the 2016 draft to reach 101 assists and his 170 career points are the third-highest from his draft class, after Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (198) and Winnipeg Jets right wing Patrik Laine (182).
Even though the Flames rank 20th on the penalty kill (79.9 percent), they lead the League with 17 shorthanded goals, marking the sixth time in franchise history they have scored that many and the first time since 1997-98 (18). Mark Jankowski is tied with Arizona Coyotes forward Michael Grabner for the NHL lead with five shorthanded goals.
The Flames, who have the most road wins in the Western Conference, are 21-14-2 with four more games remaining away from Scotiabank Saddledome. They have never had more than 22 road wins in a season, which occurred three other times in their 38-season history and were 20-15-6 on the road last season.
The Flames have allowed the second-fewest goals on the road (89) this season.