'We don't quit': Flames battle against the odds to stay in playoff chase

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The Calgary Flames don’t seem to know how to quit.

It’s not in their DNA.

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We’ve seen it again and again this season.

It’s been true in so many games where they’ve been down in the third period, like 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 little life and come storming back. A loss turns into a win, just like that.

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And it’s true when you look at the big picture of the season as a whole, too. The Flames have lost two of their top-six defencemen to trades that haven’t brought NHLers back in return. Management traded away their first-line centre, too.

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

“We’re not here to pack it in and look to the future,” said Flames winger Blake Coleman, who scored his team-leading 25th goal on Saturday. “We’ve got guys who have won here and guys who want to win here. There’s never going to be quit in our team.

“As long as we’ve got breath in us, 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 difficult week for the guys in the Flames’ locker-room. GM Craig Conroy traded away Chris Tanev, their best defensive defenceman and an extremely popular teammate around 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 the opportunity to win a Stanley Cup and the Dallas Stars give him a better chance of doing that than the Flames.

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

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

That’s tough. Just on a human level, you can understand the disappointment.

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

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

“All year, we’ve been very resilient,” said Flames captain Mikael Backlund. “There’s been a lot of things going on and it feels like we come together as a group when things (happen). Losing Tanny was really hard for all of us and sad to see him go, but it’s part of the business and we all came together and dug deep and found a way to win.

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“It was talked a little bit in the morning, Husk (head coach Ryan Huska) brought it up too the other day. It’s a great opportunity for other guys to step up and play more minutes. Hard to replace Tanny, but it gives guys opportunity 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 ‘resiliency’ often, and they mean it.

There have been no shortage of off-ice distractions this season, and they’ve done an admirable job not letting them derail the season.

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

Saturday night was the third time they’ve earned a multi-goal, third-period comeback win this season. No team in the NHL has more.

They’ve also got 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 had only two third-period comeback victories during the entire season. That was the fewest in the NHL.

“That’s just who we are. We don’t back down, we don’t quit,” Kadri said. “It says a lot about who we have in here and especially when you’re doing it multiple times, that solidifies it. We have a bunch of guys in here who refuse to go down (without) swinging and that’s a great mentality to have.”

Is all of this going to be enough for the Flames to make the playoffs? Maybe not. They’re still five points back of the Los Angeles Kings, who are sitting in the second wildcard position after Saturday night’s action.

Noah Hanifin is almost certainly going to be moved before the March 8 trade deadline.

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

Don’t count on the Flames just accepting that and waving the white flag.

They’ve prove over and over again this season that that’s not who they are.

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