If the playoffs began today, three Canadian franchises in the Western Conference would be vying for the Stanley Cup. In order of least to most surprising, you have Vancouver, Winnipeg and then Calgary. The fact any of these teams is in the playoff picture (while Los Angeles and Minnesota are on the outside looking in) is mildly news, but the fact the Flames are making noise has been one of the good storylines of 2014-15.
When goaltender Jonas Hiller signed with Calgary in the summer, it seemed like he just needed a place to prove himself again. Now he's thriving and the Flames are, too.
Best known for his years in Anaheim, Hiller fell out of favor with the Ducks, paving the way for a move to Alberta. Calgary GM Brad Treliving knew he would need solid goaltending if his squad – which we all thought would be rebuilding a little longer – was going to be competitive. Treliving was right.
“I knew there was a lot of talent around and I thought they played pretty well, especially after the Olympic break last year," Hiller said. "They were a tough team to play against, they were hard-working. I thought if I could bring in some experience and give them confidence through solid goaltending, then you always have a chance.”
Lately, Hiller has been on fire. The Swiss national has given up just six goals total in his past four wins, with only a 4-0 loss to Pittsburgh interrupting his streak. While Hiller has gone through losing streaks as well this season, his overall play sees him boasting a winning record at 18-15-2, with a 2.34 goals-against average.
And when he hasn't been hot, Calgary has seen rookie Joni Ortio contribute with a four-game win streak of his own in January, while backup Karri Ramo strung together six victories straight from November and December. Sure, the Flames have had ups and downs, but the ups have triumphed so far, in part because of goaltending.
“Especially with a young team, you have to find that confidence when things don’t go that well," Hiller said. "You have to find a way to win a game, steal one here and there.”
Netminding isn't the only reason for Calgary's success, of course. The defense corps has great weapons, starting with captain Mark Giordano and partner T.J. Brodie, while dynamic winger Johnny Gaudreau is having an excellent rookie campaign up front. Scoring was always going to be by committee and that has worked.
And while Hiller prefers to stick to what he knows – stopping pucks – he does want to be there for his young teammates if they ever need advice.
“They made it to the NHL so you don’t have to start from zero," he said. "I’m probably not the loudest guy in the room but I try to lead by example and hopefully it’s been working pretty well so far.”
Approaching mid-February and still in a playoff spot? Yeah, that has worked out pretty well.