While they currently play in the Canadian city of Calgary, the Flames actually began play in the Southeast United States as the Atlanta Flames in 1972. Contrastingly to typical expansions team’s fortunes, the Flames were actually a pretty decent squad, earning trips to the NHL playoffs in 6 of their 8 seasons in Atlanta. Players like Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion and Al MacNeil were key to the side and helped them win a lot of games. However, the team was never popular in the city and ownership soon fell under serious financial constraints.
The Flames were sold to new ownership and moved to Canada in 1980, a more hockey-loving area. Kent Nilsson had a memorable opening season in Calgary and led the Flames to a deep playoff run. However, change was in the air and after a disappointing 1982 the team went into rebuild mode. But by the mid 80s the Calgary Flames were one of the NHL’s strongest teams. This created a marvelous rivalry with a nearby side, the Edmonton Oilers, who were also quite strong at the time. Due to the playoff structure at the time, the two teams would often have to square off in the early rounds of the playoffs, and the Oilers usually won. Nevertheless, during this period one or the other of these sides was routinely represented in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Some of the major players for the Flames included Mike Vernon, Dan Quinn, Lanny McDonald, and Doug Risebrough. The team was able to vanquish Edmonton in the 1986 playoffs en route to their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance. Unfortunately, the Montreal Canadiens would win the Cup that year.
But the team improved in the next few years acquiring stars like Rom Ramage and Joe Nieuwendyk. This revamped squad would dominate the league and eventually win the Stanley Cup in 1989, avenging their loss to the Canadiens several years prior. While the team would be strong in 1990 with the addition of Soviet player Sergei Pryakhin they would lose in the playoffs, which became a regular occurrence from then on. Decent players kept the team afloat like Theoren Fleurry and Jarome Iginla, but they would lose playoff series repeatedly until 2004. For such a historically strong team, the results became excruciatingly disappointing.
Fortune began to change that year as new goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff became one of the best in the NHL. Another key player during this time was Martin Gelinas, who scored 3 straight series-winning goals to help the team to a stunning Stanley Cup Finals run in 2004. Gelinas would be denied a goal in cruel fashion that could have sealed the Cup for Calgary that year, and the team eventually lost in 7 games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Since then the going has been tough for the Flames, who haven’t had much of an impact ever since. But for such a proud team of a relatively small market, the Calgary Flames have been one of the most impressive ice hockey teams that the NHL has ever seen. While the current times have been without too much glory, this is a team certain to recover and once again contend for another Stanley Cup title!
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