The last time the Calgary Flames played the Dallas Stars in the NHL playoffs, there was no such thing as home-ice advantage.
With all the games coming under the pandemic bubble up in Edmonton, if anything, the Flames were in hostile territory. Not that any fans were in attendance, of course, but the battleground was on Oilers land.
In the end, the Stars emerged victorious in the first seven-game series of the first COVID-challenged NHL post-season.
Starting Tuesday, things are going to look much different.
“I’m really excited,” veteran winger Milan Lucic says of pulling the Flames jersey on in the playoffs for the first time with fans in the stands. “I remember being a teenager back in ’04 following the Flames through their run all the way to the finals. Seeing the C of Red and the Red Mile and all the fun the Calgarians and Flames fans brought to the Saddledome every single night — I’m excited to wear the Flaming C in the playoffs here in the Dome.
“I hope the fans bring it, and I hope we bring it for the fans as well.”
Deeper Flames team ready for revenge
Matthew Tkachuk was concussed in the second game of the last series against the Stars.
As someone who thrives on the energy provided by screaming crowds, Tkachuk can’t wait to experience the Dome in its full glory again.
“Probably some of the most fun and some of the best memories of my career have been coming out to that crowd after a goal, after a win,” Tkachuk said.
“I love what they have around the rink, too: the watch parties and the streets. Everywhere you look, you see red.”
The Flames were seeing red in a different way in their last playoff experience.
Losing in six games, they fell apart in the finale.
After earning a 3-0 lead in Game 6, the Calgary Flames collapsed. Seven unanswered goals came from the Stars. Series over.
But this year’s team is much deeper. It’s better prepared for what’s to come.
It doesn’t guarantee success. But what the Flames accomplished as one of the league’s most consistent teams in the NHL’s regular-season schedule has them ranked as a top contender for this year’s playoff tournament.
“I think the main thing is we built an identity and a foundation of how we need to play on a nightly basis that gave us the consistency throughout the season,” Lucic said.
“Obviously things ramp up when the playoffs come around. Everyone’s looking forward to Game 1. Guys are excited.”