SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) For those wondering if the pressure cooker is getting to Johnny Gaudreau, if the weight of expectation is buckling him, if the spotlight is burning him out, wonder no more.
Asked if he is managing to have fun these days, the Calgary Flames’ hotshot slips into are-you-kidding-me mode.
“I mean, it’s a blast to play hockey for a living,” said Gaudreau. “It’s much better than going to (Boston College for) my senior year and going to class and stuff.”
The rookie’s employers offer study sessions, too — of video and, of course, the standings.
Rolling out of bed Tuesday morning after their seventh win in nine outings, the Flames could marvel at their well-deserved status:
* third in the Pacific Division, against which they own a 15-4-1 record
* seventh in the Western Conference, against which they own a 21-9-1 record
* 15th in the National Hockey League, against which they own a 28-20-3 record
“I’m in a playoff push with a tonne of great players in this locker-room,” Gaudreau continued. “I don’t think there’s much more fun I could have.”
Which echoes the bench boss’s advice, with 31 games remaining, to his group of gung-ho greenhorns.
“Have fun with it,” said Bob Hartley. “This is part of the plan. This is why we play. We all dream as kids of winning a Stanley Cup. I’ve won many Stanley Cups — street-hockey games, basement games, pond-hockey games.
“This is where you realize a dream, to be in the NHL. You work hard. You spend a summer preparing yourself for training camp. You have a good training camp. You get on a good run.
“And here we are — early February. It’s up to us to take advantage of it.”
According to Bodog.ca, the Flames, wedged between the Minnesota Wild and the Colorado Avalanche, are 66-1 to capture the Stanley Cup.
“Young guys have shined when some people may have expected them to disappear,” said Brandon Bollig. “Our young guys have been great this year. A big reason for our success.”
Favoured are the Anaheim Ducks and the Chicago Blackhawks, both at 6-1. Meanwhile, the Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres are already off the tote board. A feeling the Flames — and their fans — know only too well.
En route to five playoffs misses, they slogged through many nights with only trumped-up stakes in mind.
“It’s a grind,” said Hartley. “You’re trying to play spoiler. You know, there’s no cups for spoilers. You have to get to the big dance, you have to get in the playoffs. Suddenly, you have a chance at Lord Stanley and you have a city that is going crazy. That’s the fun.
“It’s more a challenge than a pressure situation. It’s a challenge we have to enjoy and we have to embrace. We’re a young team. It’s all about learning to do business the right way.”
Sportsclubstats.com, ever sharp-pencilled, have updated the Flames’ chances of qualifying for the post-season to 71.4 per cent.
Wednesday’s guests, the San Jose Sharks, sit at 82.3 per cent.
“There’s danger everywhere,” said Hartley. “We don’t focus on dangers. We focus on rewards. We focus on positives. We can look at every game — ‘What if this? What if that?’ I don’t coach like this. I don’t live my life like this. I go — after this, I pick up the pieces.
“That’s the approach we’re trying to get from our guys. We want to be proactive. We always think something good will happen.”
Indeed, in third periods, especially, good things are happening.
The Flames have bagged the most goals (66) and surrendered the fewest (33).
They pace the NHL in wins when trailing after 40 minutes — with nine, when only two other teams have more than five.
And with the lead after two periods, the Flames are 12-0-0. Chicago, 17-0-0, is the only other unblemished bunch.
“We get timely goals,” said Hartley. “We’re the Cardiac Kids, but, at the same time, it’s not part of the plan.”