The Calgary Flames won a singular playoff series this past decade.
Nostalgia tends to paint history with the brightest colours, so it’s easy to remember the past decade solely for the emergence of young stars and some regular season dominance.
Reality, however, is incontrovertible and uncomfortable and kicks back like a horse. Over a span of 10 years, the Flames only won six playoff games. Truly triumphant moments were rare, and monumental, memorable feats were few and far between. With that being said, they were not entirely absent from this decade, and for perhaps its brightest highlight, gratitude is owed to Matt Stajan.
Of the cavalcade of players dealt to Calgary from Toronto in 2011, only Matt Stajan stuck for more than three seasons. He ultimately played 558 games in a Flames sweater, witnessing Jarome Iginla’s departure and Johnny Gaudreau’s ascendance alike, a steady presence on a violently fluctuant team. After officially announcing his retirement from hockey last week, Stajan deserves some recognition for nine seasons of contributions to the Flames. He centred all four lines at points throughout his tenure, shone defensively and rebounded from multiple injuries to reinforce the Flames’ depth up the middle. His role was quiet but meaningful, even if he never filled the net. Other than that time when he clinched the Flames’ only playoff series victory of the decade.
Game six against the Vancouver Canucks on Apr. 25, 2015: doubtlessly the most crucial playoff game the Flames had played in years. Up 3-2 in the series, on home ice, against a higher-seeded divisional rival, the stakes were mammoth. Players were focused. Fans were electric. Personally, I was pacing around my living room before the puck even dropped. Hopes and expectations leading into the game were swollen like a balloon as the Flames flirted with advancement for the first time since their 2004 cup run.
10 minutes into the game, however, the balloon was all but deflated. Popped by three early goals from the Canucks, fan faith in a win was billowing quickly. Jonas Hiller was pulled, the Saddledome was silent, my pubescent face was pale and despondent. The Flames were on the cusp of being buried, gasping for air, begging for a spark. Cue a promising two-on-one rush, where Stajan shoveled a backhand pass through Kevin Bieksa’s quaking legs onto Micheal Ferland’s tape to shave the deficit. Just like that, in no small part due to Stajan’s feed, some light was restored for the Flames.
The game erupted from there, as the Flames eventually knotted the score 3-3, only to falter yet again late in the second when Vancouver seized the lead again. Seven minutes into the third, however, Jiri Hudler evened it again with a power play marker. Tied 4-4, the third period ticking away, the game was unbelievably tense. The swarm of red in the stands buzzed. I never sat down. The Calgary Flames were begging for a hero to propel them into the second round for the first time in ten seasons, and with less than five minutes remaining in the game, enter Matt Stajan again.
David Jones first corralled the loose puck at centre ice, bursting up the ice and veering to the left wall on the rush. From his off-wing, he opened his shoulder and fired a promising snapshot off Ryan Miller’s chest. The puck ricocheted in front, Ferland fumbled the rebound and the puck soared high towards a free slab of ice. Players were scrambling, Flames fans were already on their feet, I think I was spasming.
But Stajan arrived first, skidding to a halt just as the puck landed. It was spinning like a top, so he waited a split second for it to settle against his blade. I swear time froze in that second, as Flames fans held their breath, Canucks fans gripped their heads and my own heart pulsated at what was likely a near-fatal rate. And then Stajan launched it, flinging the puck over Miller’s right shoulder to snag the 5-4 lead and seal the series.
Teammates went berserk. The Saddledome exploded, thousands of Flames fans shrieking and pounding the glass. I myself yelped and stomped through my living room, punching the air with my fists in pure euphoria. I even apologized to my father afterwards for getting so excited, who responded by telling me to cheer all I wanted because I had never witnessed any similar glory yet as a Flames fan (as I was too young to really remember the Cup run). His words rang true; for an entire generation of fans, Stajan’s goal and the subsequent 7-4 win represented their first time seeing the Flames accomplish something meaningful.
So thank you, Matt Stajan. For spending nine sweat-soaked seasons in a Flames sweater, cementing Calgary’s only shred of playoff success of the decade, and furnishing me with one of my happiest hockey memories. Speaking on behalf of the entire C of Red, it was deeply appreciated.