Calgary, other top seed, also falls in first round

Like the Lightning, the Flames clinched a playoff spot early and then made an early exit.
Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau (13) hangs his head near the end of the third period of Game 5 of the hockey first-round playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday, April 19, 2019, in Calgary, Alberta. The Avalanche won 5-1, knocking the Flames out of the playoffs. [Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press via AP]
Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau (13) hangs his head near the end of the third period of Game 5 of the hockey first-round playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday, April 19, 2019, in Calgary, Alberta. The Avalanche won 5-1, knocking the Flames out of the playoffs. [Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press via AP]
Published April 20

The two top seeds are out. Calgary wasn’t swept, but it only won one game and the end result is the same as the Lightning’s: an early exit.

The Flames led the Western Conference from December on, led the conference by seven points, and tied for the second-most goals in the season. Sound familiar?

“It just kind of snowballed a little bit,” defenseman Travis Hamonic said after Friday’s 5-1 loss in Game 4.

That’s someone an Eastern Conference scout warned about when asked how a team could beat the Lightning four times. One loss can give the “underdog” momentum and force the favorite back on its heels.

In both series, a team which had been playing for its life, in effect playing playoff hockey for weeks before the regular season ended, rolled into the postseason. The teams that hadn’t played meaningful games, that had high expectations, had to find a way to catch up.

The Flames did it better than the Lightning. Calgary won Game 1 and lost in overtime twice.

This was not the same series Tampa Bay played, giving up its one lead and never fully recovering. Calgary was always in it. But, the result is the same.

Calgary goalie said the exact same thing as Steven Stamkos, “the regular season means nothing.”

In both cases, a strong regular season, one in which the Lightning nor Flames had to test itself down the stretch, ended up hurting the postseason.

Washington’s Brooks Orpik said the same and the Capitals’ two Presidents’ Trophy-winning seasons. They ended up coasting through the end of the season and couldn’t get the intensity back in the playoffs.

The Capitals won their first-round series in both 2017 and 2016, but lost in the second round.

Danny Briere, best known for his time with the Flyers but also a former Sabre, also said the same about when Buffalo finished with the most points in 2007. The team didn’t have its rhythm in the playoffs, fought through two series and then lost.

The Presidents’ Trophy isn’t the issue. Teams need to find a way to keep pushing and enter the playoffs with momentum despite clinching their spot early.

The Lightning thought they had done so. Tampa Bay was still winning, coming back late in games and playing hard after clinching its top seed on March 18. But then in the last week, it fell off.

That one week of letting up proved costly.

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