There’s the Calgary Flames we all remember. On the brink of elimination, the Flames have looked absolutely dreadful for two games in a row as they currently face a 3–1 series deficit. The Flames never make it easy on themselves or their fans come playoff time. It got me thinking, when have the Flames ever done what the Oilers are doing right now and cruise to a big lead in a series?
The Flames handedly winning playoff series? Good luck. The franchise has shown a complete inability to ever take a commanding lead in a playoff series. In fact, since winning the Stanley Cup in 1988–89, they’ve taken a two-game series lead just three times out of the 21 playoff series they’ve played. Yes it’s been that dire.
It’s not exactly a rare feat either. In the eight first round playoff series this season, three of them saw a team go up by two games.
We all know about the current 12-game losing streak (13 including the qualifying round in 2020) in Game 2s as well. Something that would seem nearly impossible if it wasn’t a fact. Let’s take a look back at three times the Flames have actually managed to go up by two games, as well as some recent chances they’ve had.
Two-game leads are a rare occasion for the Flames
As mentioned the Flames have indeed gone up by two games in a series a couple times since the 1988–89 season 32 years ago. Just not very many times. Let’s take a look.
2014–15 Round 1: Up 3–1 versus Vancouver Canucks (Won 4–2)
The most recent example comes all the way back during the miracle Find-a-Way Flames season of 2014–15. A year in which no one expected the Flames to even make the playoffs, they took a commanding lead over a veteran and experienced Vancouver Canucks team.
The Flames would take a tightly contested Game 1 with a 2–1 win off the back of a game-winning goal by Kris Russell with 30 seconds left in the game. In Game 2 the Flames would—of course—lose by a score of 4–1. However in a rarity that the Flames have yet to repeat to this day, they would win both Games 3 and 4 on home ice to take a 3–1 series lead.
In Game 3 they would cruise to victory, taking a 4–1 lead with a five minutes left en route to a 4–2 win. In Game 4 it was more of the same as the Flames would take a 3–1 lead and never look back. They would end up dropping Game 5, but we all know what happened next.
The Flames would stage an all-time classic comeback, clawing their way back from a 3–0 deficit just 10 minutes into the game on their way to a 7–4 series clinching win that included the Matt Stajan goal that is etched into the collective memory of Calgary Flames fandom. Would you look at that, a Flames team that can close out a series before stretching it longer than it needs to be.
2003–04 Round 3: Up 2–0 versus San Jose Sharks (Won 4–2)
The Flames up 2–0 in a series? Since when? Funnily enough, this series all the way back in 2003–04. Yes, 18 years ago was the last time the Flames won a Game 2. Fun fact, Twitter was established in 2006. In other words, Flames fans has never tweeted about a Game 2 victory.
This was also the last time the Flames made it into the Conference Final. What a magical year 2003–04 was. The Flames would roar out to a quick 2–0 series lead on the back of Steve Montador‘s classic overtime goal in Game 1, as well as a rather dominant Game 2 win, finishing the game 4-1.
We’re just talking about two-game series leads here, so naturally the Sharks would then win two straight to tie the series. Even when the Flames make it easy on themselves, they still don’t. Luckily they would bounce right back with two straight wins in Games 5 and 6 including outscoring the Sharks 6–1 across the two games to take the series 4–2 and head to the Stanley Cup Final.
1993–94 Round 1: Up 3–1 versus Vancouver Canucks (Lost 4–3)
The Flames just like playing the Canucks in the playoffs apparently. Two of their three two-game series leads since 1988-89 have come against the Canucks. Unfortunately this time around there was a much different outcome.
The Flames would get crushed 5–0 in Game 1, before turning the series on its head with three straight wins in Games 2, 3, and 4. In fact, the 1993–94 first round and the 1994–95 first round are the last two times the Flames have won three straight games in a playoff series. Yes, it’s really been 27 years.
The fun ended there for the Flames as they would somehow drop three straight overtime games including a double overtime thriller in Game 7 to lose the series 4–3. But hey, at least they actually had a commanding series lead, more than you can say for just about every other Flames team over the past 30 years.
Prepare for pain
It wouldn’t be a Calgary Flames playoff post without a little pain. Let’s take a look at some of the numerous examples where the Flames ended up choking and keeping a series tight.
2021–22 Round 2 versus Edmonton Oilers
Hey I remember this series! After jumping out to a massive 6–2 lead in Game 1, the Flames would let the Oilers claw back into the game to tie it 6–6 but would luckily eke out a win 9–6 to take a 1–0 series lead. With lots of momentum on their side and a massive chance on home ice to win their first Game 2 in 18 years, the Flames looked to be in great shape after a dominating Game 1 performance goaltending aside.
Like in Game 1, the Flames quickly jumped out to a 2–0 lead. They would eventually be up 3–1 just a couple minutes into the second period, as it seemed inventible they were finally going to break the Game 2 curse. Well we know what happened next as the Flames would choke away their best chance at a 2–0 series lead in 18 years.
The Oilers would score four straight goals in Game 2, and eight straight goals overall to comeback and win Game 2 and dominate Game 3 en route to a 2–1 series lead over the Flames. So far, yet so close. If the Flames hope to win this series now, they’ll have to win three straight games in a playoff series for the first time in 27 years.
2019–20 Round 1 versus Dallas Stars
Two years later this one still stings. Clinching a series victory over the Stars this season certainly helps, but you just can’t help but wonder what could’ve been if the Flames didn’t implode in the 2020 bubble against the Stars.
The Flames would gain a 1–0 series lead with a tight 3–2 Game 1 win. In Game 2, naturally the Flames would lose in classic Flames fashion. After erasing a 4–2 deficit in the third period, the Stars would score with 40 seconds left to win the game and tie the series.
In Game 3 the Flames were quite frankly terrible, but Cam Talbot stood on his head and led the Flames to a 2–0 win to take a 2–1 series lead. Game 4 is the stuff of nightmares. Once again the Flames were dominated, as Talbot faced 62 shots in the game. That said, he stood tall as the Flames led with under a minute remaining. With the Stars net empty, the Flames failed to clear the puck multiple times and Flames killer Joe Pavelski would tie the game with just 12 seconds left.
To make matters even worse, Tobias Reider would have a wide open net in OT only for his stick to explode and fan on the shot. With four minutes left in the frame the Stars would score and tie the series 2–2. Every Flames fan on Earth knew the Stars were winning Game 5 after the Game 4 collapse, and of course they did.
In Game 6 the Flames would give their fans hope jumping out to an early 3–0 lead. As the series seemed destined for seven games, they would then allow seven unanswered goals and lose the game 7–3 and the series 4–2. 12 seconds away from a 3-1 series lead turned into a 4–2 first round loss in the span of four days.
2018–19 Round 1 versus Colorado Avalanche
One of the most crushing playoff series losses in Flames history has to be the Flames’ 2018–19 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. Coming into the playoffs the Flames ranked second in the entire NHL, and were coming off one of their best regular seasons in franchise history.
In Game 1, all seemed to be going as planned as the Flames would cruise to a 4–0 victory. Unfortunately they then had to play in a Game 2. It looked for a bit that the Game 2 demons may have finally been solved as Sean Monahan would score with eight minutes remaining in the third to take a 2–1 lead. With just two and a half minutes remaining in the game and the Avalanche net empty, J.T. Compher would tie the game and force overtime. From there, Nathan MacKinnon would take over and win the game for the Avalanche.
In Game 3, the Flames would get crushed 6–2 as their hopes of gaining a two-game series lead were dashed once again. To make matter even worse, the Flames would blow a 2–0 lead in the third period of Game 4 to boot. The Avalanche would score twice in the final 12 minutes including another goal with under three minutes left to tie the game 2–2. The Avalanche used that momentum to then win the game in overtime.
Two and a half minutes away from a 2–0 series lead, turned into a 3–1 series deficit just four days later. Noticing a trend? The Flames would end up losing Game 5 by a score of 5–1 and dropping the series 4–1 in embarrassing fashion.
A history of pain
The Calgary Flames are masters of two things. Being mediocre, and never making things easy. Even when they do shake off that mediocrity and get into the playoffs, they still don’t make it easy. Flames fans watch other franchises cruise to series victories every season, yet never seem to watch their own team do the same.
Having led a series by two games just three times in the past 33 years, the Flames have shown year after year that they always find a way to fail on the biggest stage. In what seems almost certainly to be another case of that this season, you can’t help but ask yourself why the hockey gods despise the Calgary Flames.