‘We are not giving up’: Flames fight against all odds to stay in the playoff race

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The Calgary Flames don’t seem to know how to give up.

It’s not in their DNA.

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We’ve seen it time and time again this season.

It’s been that way in many games where they were down in the third period, as they were against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night at the Saddledome.

You’ll think it’s over and then, out of nowhere, the Flames find a bit of life and come back furious. A loss turns into a victory, just like that.

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And it’s also true when you look at the big picture of the season as a whole. The Flames have lost two of their top six defensemen to trades that have not brought back NHL players. Management also sold its top-of-the-line center.

Basic logic would suggest that they should have gotten worse. And yet, here they are, with Saturday’s wild 4-3 comeback giving them their first five-game winning streak since the 2021-22 season.

“We’re not here to pack our bags and look to the future,” said Flames winger Blake Coleman, who scored his team-leading 25th goal on Saturday. “We have guys who have won here and guys who want to win here. There will never be a dropout on our team.

“As long as we have breath, we’re going to have that fight.”

Calgary Flames vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Calgary Flames forward Nazem Kadri scores against Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarr at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Saturday, March 2, 2024. Photo by Darren Makowichuk /postmedia

This was a tough week for the guys in the Flames locker room. General manager Craig Conroy traded Chris Tanev, his best defensive back and an extremely popular teammate in the Saddledome.

Everyone understands why the deal had to happen. Tanev is a potential unrestricted free agent this summer and is in his mid-30s. He wants a chance to win a Stanley Cup and the Dallas Stars give him a better chance of doing so than the Flames.

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But that doesn’t mean it didn’t feel like a punch in the gut. The Flames were already over the trades that sent Nikita Zadorov and Elias Lindholm to the Vancouver Canucks.

They kept fighting, kept working, kept scraping and clawing to stay within striking distance of a playoff position. And then, just when they seemed to be playing their best hockey and had gotten hot, Tanev was traded.

That’s hard. Only on a human level can disappointment be understood.

You can see how hard it might have been to get up for a game like Saturday’s against the Penguins.

And for two and a half periods, it looked like that might have been the case. Then, Nazem Kadri scored a great goal and the Flames came to life. Blake Coleman tied it and then Yegor Sharangovich scored his second of the game to seal the deal with less than a minute left.

“All year long we’ve been very resilient,” Flames captain Mikael Backlund said. “A lot of things have happened and we seem to come together as a group when things (happen). Losing Tanny was very difficult for all of us and it was sad to see her go, but it’s part of the business and we all came together, dug deep and found a way to win.

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“There was a little talk about it in the morning, Husk (head coach Ryan Huska) mentioned it the other day as well. It’s a great opportunity for other guys to step up and play more minutes. It’s hard to replace Tanny, but it gives guys a chance and I thought a lot of guys in the D corps played well tonight, especially as the game went on.”

Calgary Flames vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Calgary Flames forward Kevin Rooney battles Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Saturday, March 2, 2024. Photo by Darren Makowichuk /postmedia

The Flames use the word “resilience” often, and they mean it.

There has been no shortage of off-ice distractions this season and they have done an admirable job of not allowing them to derail the season.

And on a game-to-game level, not giving up has become a legitimate part of his identity.

Saturday night was the third time they pulled off a multi-goal third-period comeback this season. No NHL team has more.

They also have nine third period wins in total this season. Only the Detroit Red Wings have more, and it’s worth remembering that last season the Flames only had two third-period comeback wins all season. That was the fewest in the NHL.

“That is what we are. We don’t back down, we don’t give up,” Kadri said. “He says a lot about who we have here and, especially when you do it multiple times, it solidifies it. We have a group of guys here that refuse to go down (without) swinging and that’s a great mentality.”

Will all of this be enough for the Flames to make the playoffs? Maybe not. They are still five points behind the Los Angeles Kings, who occupy the second wild card spot after Saturday night’s action.

Noah Hanifin will almost certainly be moved before the March 8 trade deadline.

Perhaps that will be the breaking point and the exodus of talent will prove too much.

Don’t count on the Flames to just accept that and wave the white flag.

They have proven time and time again this season that that is not who they are.

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