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Epic Flames road trip bodes well for bounce-back season



Calgary Flames Johnny Gaudreau

Let’s put this Calgary Flames road trip in perspective.

They never trailed. Not once. Not for a single second.

Impossible, right? Five games on the road, taking them through some tough spots against some dangerous teams – including Artemi Panarin’s New York Rangers, and the Washington Capitals with the league’s top sniper, Alex Ovechkin.

And yet, they went 302:46 since leaving the Saddledome, leading for 225:43 of it after scoring the first goal in the first period of every game. They outscored the opposition 11-0 in the opening 20 minutes and finished the trip with a 21-7 goal total.

The Flames are just the third team in NHL history to sweep a road trip of five-plus games while never trailing — joining Chicago in 1996 (5-0-0) and St. Louis in 2017 (5-0-0).

They returned home to Calgary as the NHL’s Pacific Division leaders, atop the entire Western Conference standings.

At 5-1-1, this is the Calgary Flames’ best start since going 5-1-0-1 to start the 2001-02 season and gives the team a cushion for growing pains that it hasn’t had in a long time. Not that they’ve looked like they need it. The team has managed to pull off all these wins while experiencing its challenges from period to period.

“It’s huge,” Gaudreau said of the road-trip success. “I think the guys were really excited to get on a road trip, play in the United States on the East Coast. We had a couple of team dinners, just trying to come together as a team. A road trip helps sometimes to bring your team together. I’ve been part of this organization (for eight years) … it’s been a while since we’ve had a start like this.

“I’m just proud of the guys.”

Gaudreau finished the roadie with eight points – including his first goal of the season to open the scoring in the 4-0 shutout win in the finale against the Pittsburgh Penguins. That might be enough to earn him MVP of the Eastern swing.

But what about Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane, the Calgary Flames’ top goal-scorers?

Lindholm had his second career hat-trick, including the overtime game-winner in Washington, and finished with five goals and six points. Mangiapane scored six times while averaging the third-fewest minutes of five-on-five play on the team.

And then, there’s goaltender Jacob Markstrom.

Head coach Darryl Sutter strategically deployed him in three of the five games, giving him both recovery time and a sense of urgency when he got into the nets. The payoff was 106 saves on 107 shots. A .990 save percentage.

Many of them were not easy. Some of them were spectacular.

“I saw it on the replays during intermission,” Gaudreau said of the paddle save against Drew O’Connor in the second period of the win in Pittsburgh. “I didn’t realize he made that save. It’s insane. I think he might have had two of those on the road trip – it’s becoming an everyday thing for Marky. Just a crazy, crazy, incredible save.

“He saved our bacon one too many times. Not just this game but throughout the road trip. What’s that, two shutouts on the road trip? Obviously one of the best goaltenders I’ve ever played with.”

Take your pick of any of those players. All are worthy of the choice and are critical pieces of a Flames team that may just exceed the external expectations this year.

They may not even want to bother chasing Jack Eichel on the NHL trade front anymore.

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