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Can Gaudreau translate stellar season into playoff success?

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Johnny Gaudreau. Calgary Flames star. Hart Trophy candidate. Art Ross Trophy challenger.

He’s again proven to be one of the NHL’s elite players.

The 28-year-old just finished one of the best seasons in Calgary Flames history. With 115 points (tied for second in the league behind Connor McDavid), it was the second highest point total in franchise lore. If you take all Gaudreau’s impressive statistics into account, you could easily make an argument that it’s the most impressive of all-time.

At even-strength, Gaudreau was unmatched. He led the league with 70 points in five-on-five action, 13 more than McDavid and 20 more than the guy he finished tied with in the scoring race – Jonathan Huberdeau.

Gaudreau and the expected Hart Trophy winner, Auston Matthews, both finished with more than 60 percent of their production coming when the ice isn’t tilted. Neither McDavid (47) nor Huberdeau (43) cracked 50 percent.

There are plenty more numbers that make him a serious consideration for the league’s MVP. He also led the league in five-on-five points per 60 minutes and it wasn’t close.

But we’re not talking about the Hart. Finishing as a finalist would be a win for a guy playing in the west.

One more thing for Gaudrea, Flames to prove

There’s just one thing left for Gaudreau to prove as his tenure in the Flaming C nears a potential end. He’s looking to translate his incredible impact from the regular season into the playoffs to help his Calgary Flames make a deep run for the first time since 2004.

They’ve won just a single (non-COVID) opening round since then.

Their top offensive player has been criticized for his post-season performances. But the truth is Gaudreau was pretty good in his playoff debut as an NHL rookie in 2015, scoring four and earning nine points in 11 games as the Flames upset the Vancouver Canucks in the first round. The followup wasn’t great, falling to the Chicago Blackhawks in five games in the Round 2.

The condemnation has come because of the struggles in 2017 and 2019. Gaudreau was silenced by the Anaheim Ducks and Colorado Avalanche, putting up just three assists in nine games combined.

But Johnny Hockey was pretty good under the pandemic bubble in 2020, scoring four goals and seven points in 10 games.

They couldn’t move forward, though.

And as Calgary Flames head coach would say, winning is all that matters. And that has escaped Gaudreau and his Flames during his eight seasons here.

It looks like the Flames will play the Nashville Predators in the first round. Their former teammate, David Rittich, is the guy in goal with Juuse Saros injured. Without getting too far ahead of the games, a playoff Battle of Alberta could await in the second round.

Whatever happens will go a long way toward Gaudreau’s contractual future.

Flames will move ‘Heaven and Earth’ to keep star winger

On the 32 Thoughts podcast this week, Craig Conroy confirmed what Flames GM Brad Treliving said on After Hours recently, that the team will move “Heaven and Earth” to keep Gaudreau in Calgary for a long time.

But the Gaudreau family is out east, and as the family grows, the lure of having the clan closer together will be hard to resist.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to imagine Gaudreau returning. He was part of the best line in hockey this season and it’s tough to find the kind of chemistry he has with Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm.

“I do think having a relationship definitely makes it easier. Is it going to make it that much easier? I don’t know,” Conroy told Elliotte Friedman.

“The one thing I know about John — he loves what he loves. He doesn’t like change; he loves records and he loves all that kind of stuff. (Gaudreau) wants to be the best at all times.”

Don’t underestimate Gaudreau’s competitive nature.

Former Flames head coach Bob Hartley asked Conroy who he thought the most competitive player on the bench was. It was Gaudreau’s rookie season.

“He said, ‘Gaudreau hates to lose.’ Being in the press box, you don’t get that sense,” Conroy said. “The competitive fire in him and him always wanting to be the best. He’s grown up here. He’s been a part of it.”

Whether he’s part of it in the future, or this playoff is his big finish, Flames fans will have to hope Gaudreau can turn his stellar season into a Stanley Cup.

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