By Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press
CALGARY – A season of many improbable comebacks gave the Calgary Flames the confidence to pull off their biggest one yet.
The Flames came from behind twice in a 7-4 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday. Calgary advanced to the second round of NHL playoffs for the first time in over a decade.
Calgary meets the Anaheim Ducks in a best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal after eliminating the Canucks four games to two in the opening round.
Matt Stajan’s goal at 15:43 of the third period stood up as the winner. Jiri Hudler and Michael Ferland added empty-net goals to ensure there wouldn’t be a Game 7 in Vancouver on Monday.
“Things happen so quickly out there and even when I go home, I’ll probably blink my eyes and still have to pinch myself to realize what happened,” said Stajan. “That’s why we play the games. This is a special moment.”
“I’m just happy it didn’t go to overtime and we found a way here. To eliminate team like that is not easy.”
Hudler and Ferland each contributed a goal in addition to their empty-netters. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan also scored for Calgary in front a Scotiabank Saddledome that was delirious by the third period.
The Flames last advanced beyond the opening round in 2004 when they reached the Stanley Cup final and lost in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Calgary earned 24 of 97 points this season when trailing after two periods. They’d had enough dress rehearsals in comeback wins to know they could do it again when the stakes were high.
“We’re not a team that’s going to give up or quit,” Monahan said. “We want to step up and want to be that team that teams look at and say ‘these guys are hard to play against.'”
But the hosts stumbled out of the start gates Saturday as the Canucks rattled off three unanswered goals on their first four shots.
Calgary starter Jonas Hiller was replaced by Karri Ramo at 7:32 of the first period after giving up two goals on three shots. Ramo allowed a goal on the first shot he faced, but stopped 17 of 19 shots to earn the win.
Luca Sbisa, Brandon McMillan, Jannik Hansen and Radim Vrbata scored for the Canucks, who led 3-0 within 10 minutes of puck drop and again 4-3 midway through the second period. Ryan Miller made 28 saves in the loss.
“When you coach a group of athletes that believe you get crazy games like this one,” Flames head coach Bob Hartley said. “The crowd never left us. We were down three-zip and we felt their support. What a great story.”
Calgary’s top line of Monahan with Hudler and Gaudreau on his wings had produced three power-play goals in the first five games of the series, but stepped up their games Saturday.
They produced their first even-strength goals with a pair in the second period to tie the game 3-3 and added another power-play goal in the third to even up again at 4-4.
“Obviously you guys have been all over us for not producing, so maybe we were just sick of that,” Monahan told reporters.
But it was Calgary’s fourth line of Stajan, Ferland and David Jones producing the winner with a siege on Miller in the third. The Vancouver goalie made an initial save on Ferland, but Stajan banged in the rebound.
Vancouver was the pre-series favourite with vastly more post-season experience than Calgary, who hadn’t made the playoffs in six years.
The Flames were also without captain Mark Giordano, who underwent surgery on a torn bicep with six weeks remaining in the regular season.
Calgary opened with a 2-1 win in Vancouver to come home with a split. The Flames won back-to-back at home before falling 2-1 in Game 5 at Rogers Arena.
“You have to give them credit,” said Canucks coach Willie Desjardins. “They found ways all year and they found a way again tonight. I’m proud of our guys. One hundred and one points this year was a good run.”
Notes â€” Flames D Dennis Wideman appeared in his 50th career playoff game . . . Calgary scored in the second period for the first time in the series on goals from Monahan and Gaudreau . . . The completed Calgary-Vancouver series, and St. Louis versus Minnesota, still in progress, are the only series of the first round without an overtime game.