The Calgary Flames' bubble has been popped.
After getting through the Winnipeg Jets in the NHL's qualifying stage, the Flames were hoping to go on a postseason run that would effectively wash out the disappointment of last year's early exit. But for the second straight year, Calgary has been bounced in the Round of 16, with this year's exit coming at the hands of the Dallas Stars.
The Stars needed six wild, eventful games to force the Flames out of the playoff bubble in Edmonton, so where did things go wrong for Calgary? Let's examine some of the reasons why they're heading home early.
Loss of Matthew Tkachuk
Tkachuk has been one of the most important, if not the most important, skaters for the Flames this season. Not only is he a talented playmaker and dynamic offensive piece who led the Flames in points (61) this year, he also brings the kind of nasty that can give a team an edge over the course of a seven-game series. Love him or hate him, he's become a heart & soul guy for the Flames.
That's why his departure from the series in Game 2 was a tough one to swallow for the Flames. He suffered an injury after being awkwardly sandwiched between Jamie Benn and Jamie Oleksiak and was missed the remainder of the way. The Stars' calling card is their big, physical team defense and the Flames not having Tkachuk to mix it up down low and along the wall hurt their ability to establish sustained offensive pressure and generate high-danger opportunities.
Which brings us to...
Inability to penetrate Dallas' stingy D
Over the final few months of the regular season, the Flames were one of the best offensive teams in the league. After the restart, they were able to find success going up against a weak Winnipeg Jets defense. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a more drastic pivot than going from the Jets' defense to the Stars' D.
As previously mentioned, Dallas prides itself on limiting opportunities in their own end. They were able to do that effectively for a majority of this series, especially in the high-danger areas down low and in the slot. The Flames were pushed to the perimeter and had a lot of trouble winning battles and penetrating the Stars' structure. That limited the amount of pressure put on Anton Khudobin and, ultimately, the production of the offense they rely on.
At the end of the day, Calgary's top-six just needed to be a whole lot better in this series. They only got two total goals from top-six forwards at 5v5.
Cam Talbot was pretty solid between the pipes and this wasn't really his fault. But it's hard not to look at goaltending as an area of need for the Flames moving forward, especially with how this series ended.
When the Flames needed a big save from Talbot in an elimination Game 6, they couldn't get one. Then, when they tried to stop the bleeding and put in David Rittich, they couldn't get a big save from him either. (To be fair, Rittich hadn't played since Calgary's lone exhibition contest ahead of the play-in round.) Then they turned back to Talbot but, by then, it was too late.
Calgary's goaltending was right around league average this year and, again, it wasn't necessarily what killed them in the postseason. But a lack of trusted stability on the back end has plagued Calgary and those who have followed this team for a while now were likely waiting for play between the pipes to fall apart, and it just so happened to do so at the absolute worst time.
So, that brings us to...
Game 6 collapse
I mean, just not how you want to end your season, huh?
With their backs up against the wall in an elimination Game 6, the Flames got an ideal start. They jumped out to an early 3-0 lead and it looked like they might cruise to a do-or-die Game 7. Then, this happened...
Say what you want about that penalty call but it gave the Stars an opening. They scored on the ensuing power play and found some life. Then they proceeded to score six more times unanswered (including on another power play gifted by Lucic) in what can only be described as a monumental implosion over the final 50 minutes of an elimination game.
The final report for Game 6 reads pretty hilarious. The Flames controlled 66 percent of attempts and out-shot the Stars 31-17 at 5v5 but the final scoreline read 7-3 with seven unanswered goals by Dallas. Just an incredible way to say goodbye.
Maybe you won't consider this to be important, but I do. I personally believe the Flames doomed themselves at the outset of these playoffs when they chose to wear these uniforms...
... instead of these uniforms:
You know what they say... look good, play good. Look bad, poop your pants and give up seven straight goals to end your season in demoralizing fashion.