After eliminating the Vancouver Canucks in their long-awaited return to the playoffs last season, the Calgary Flames have raised the bar.
They’ll begin down a road filled with lofty expectations Wednesday night against the visiting Canucks.
After recording 119 points over the previous two seasons, Calgary posted 97 in 2014-15 to finish third in the Pacific Division. Back in the postseason for the first time since 2009, the Flames won Game 1 of their first-round series in Vancouver before winning all three home games to oust the Canucks in six. Calgary lost in the next round to Anaheim.
That performance was a foundation for a group that won’t settle for simply returning to the playoffs this season.
"Our first focus is as a team, we have to get better. Bottom line," captain and All-Star defenseman Mark Giordano told the NHL’s official website. "We know that last year is over and done with. We had a lot of things go well for us.
"We’ve got to take the next step."
Calgary’s biggest step in the offseason was acquiring Dougie Hamilton from Boston for two draft picks to reinforce an already talented defensive corps. During his third season in 2014-15, Hamilton set career highs with 10 goals and 32 assists.
The Flames (45-30-7) also signed veteran forward Michael Frolik to add depth behind the top line of Jiri Hudler, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.
Hudler (76 points) and Monahan (62) tied for the team lead with 31 goals and each set career highs for points. Gaudreau was a Calder Trophy finalist after posting 24 goals and 40 assists.
Calgary tied for sixth in the NHL in goals per game (2.89) after finishing 23rd (2.46) the previous season. They tied for the league lead with nine overtime victories, and their 10 wins that came when trailing entering the third period were third-most.
"You have to have everybody contributing," defenseman Dennis Wideman said. "It’s almost expected, if you don’t take a step forward, you’re going to take a step backwards and miss the playoffs."
Jonas Hiller posted 26 victories and a 2.36 goals-against average in 52 regular-season games but was pulled early in Game 6 against Vancouver and Game 1 against Anaheim. Karri Ramo started the final four of the Ducks series, then was re-signed in the offseason and now gets the call in the opener. Joni Ortio also is in the mix.
"If they win, they play, and if they don’t win, we have the musical chair going," reigning Adams Trophy winning-coach Bob Hartley said.
Ramo went 15-9-3 with a 2.60 GAA last season. He made 28 saves in a 3-2 home victory Feb. 14 in his only regular-season start against Vancouver before stopping 17 of 19 shots in the first-round clincher.
The Canucks (48-29-5) made an 18-point improvement last season and returned to the playoffs under rookie coach Willie Desjardins after their five-year run ended in 2013-14. However, Vancouver’s biggest offseason splashes came from dealing goalie Eddie Lack to Carolina and veteran defenseman Kevin Bieksa to the Ducks.
Brandon Sutter matched a career high with 21 goals for Pittsburgh last season and joins newly acquired Brandon Prust to provide forward depth.
"Last year, the guys had something to prove early on and I think we have to maintain that because every year that’s what kind of gets you through," veteran goaltender Ryan Miller said.
"You have to have a calling."
After splitting time with Lack in the playoffs, the 35-year-old Miller is back to being the top option. He posted 29 wins and a 2.53 GAA in 45 regular-season games and missed more than six weeks with a knee injury. Miller went 2-1-0 with a 2.35 GAA against the Flames during the regular season and 1-1-0 with a 2.31 GAA in three playoff games.
Henrik and Daniel Sedin combined for 149 points while playing all 82 games after totaling 97 and missing 21 the previous season under the constraints of coach John Tortorella.
However, the Sedin twins didn’t have much success against the Flames, totaling six points while Vancouver split four regular-season meetings and eight in six playoff games.