The city of Calgary was, pardon the pun, all fired up Thursday about the Flames' chances of reaching the NHL playoffs for the first time since 2009.
The spunky Flames, who lead the league with 107 goals in the third period or overtime this season, need only to defeat the Kings in any fashion (regulation, overtime or shootout) to clinch a playoff spot. For the Kings, a loss in regulation would mean elimination from playoff contention and the end of an impressive run of two Stanley Cup championships in three seasons, with a drive to the Western Conference final squeezed between those titles.
Flames Coach Bob Hartley, who has done a fine job of getting a lot out of his veterans while also developing young players like center Sean Monahan and winger Johnny Gaudreau, said he anticipates a festive atmosphere Thursday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
"Those fans have been unbelievable from Day 1. I don't expect anything less than this place is going to go crazy tonight," he said after the Flames' morning skate.
"As soon as we're going to get on the ice — both teams get on the ice for warm-up — you'll be able to feel major electricity in the air. But at the same time, it's a great game, two great teams. We're both ready, so let's drop the puck …. We're excited. We worked all year for those games. And here we are, so we enjoy them. Those big games, we've been playing them basically all year so we understand why we're playing. Once again, we'll put our trust in our players and we'll let them play the game."
That it's a game against the defending Stanley Cup champions adds an extra dimension for the young Flames. "The schedule maker had a crystal ball for this year, for sure," Hartley said.
But, he added, his team deserved to be in the strong position it occupies. "I don't want to be sarcastic, but if we had gone with many of your predictions we could have spent the winter in Punta Cana, or something like this," he told a crowd of reporters. "We didn't have too many chances. There were not too many reasons to play those games. But we went our way and right now we're putting ourselves in a situation to move on to the next dance."
Veteran defenseman Dennis Wideman said he felt no need for any player to deliver an inspirational speech before the game. "We don't have time to do that kind of a speech and take it over four times and try to get somebody to write it for you," he said, laughing. "Just the same message as it has been all year: We have to go out and play our game. And we know how they play. We know how good of a team they are. And we just have to be ready to use our speed and try to get pucks in behind them."
Wideman said he and his teammates respected the Kings' recent history of performing well under pressure.
"We have no doubt that they're going to play good tonight. They're going to have their game," he said. "They proved it time and time again. Last year in the playoffs down, 3-0, came all the way back. Bunch of Game 7's. We know this team knows how to play in these games, and for us, we're a young group, we haven't been in that type of game too often, but in the past we have been, at different levels. You have to try and draw from that experience.
"You've got to have fun with it. You can't be too nervous going into these games. You've just got to go out and play and have fun."