Arms raised and glare fixed skyward, Elias Lindholm exhaled deeply.
He’d just scored his 40th of the season and the relief he felt was evident.
Another game, another milestone for the Calgary Flames.
Who said these last few contests don’t mean much?
They sure do to the 27-year-old centre, who joined linemate Matthew Tkachuk to form the first Flames duo since 1993 to hit the 40-goal mark.
“Last game I had a lot of chances and he (Thatcher Demko) made a nice save in the first period – I felt at that point I didn’t know if I was going to get another one this season,” smiled Lindholm, when asked about the hallmark moment.
“It was nice to get one. It’s obviously a good number.”
He now has twice as many goals as perennial Selke Trophy frontrunner Patrice Bergeron, whose plus-18 rating is less than a third of the +58 Lindholm is sporting this season.
Defending Selke champ, Alex Barkov, has one less goal than Lindholm and is a formidable +38.
The merits of Lindholm being, at the very least, a finalist for the league’s best defensive forward award, are evident.
A discussion for another day.
On Saturday Lindholm and his Pacific Division-winning Flames did well to continue playing with an edge that matched the intensity of yet another desperate team rolling through town.
Battling a Vancouver club that needed a win to keep its slim playoff hopes alive, the Flames turned a scoreless first period into a 2-0 lead early in the second with goals from Lindholm and Dube 16 seconds apart.
It kickstarted an evening of celebration for a fully engaged crowd that the regular season home schedule capped with yet another win at the Dome.
A 6-3 win over the hated Canucks included plenty of the wave, a sing-along to Sweet Caroline, and “Go Flames Go” chants that will soon get even louder when bosses reconvene for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
It might have been a good thing when Dillon Dube missed an empty net for what would have been a hat trick, as the celebration might have kickstarted the Red Mile right then and there.
It was in their saddle-shaped home the Flames crafted a 25-9-7 record this season, which included a record, 11-game winning streak through a nine-game homestand of rescheduled games coming out of a Christmas shutdown when the team contracted Covid en masse.
That run of dominance at home is what Darryl Sutter credits for clinching their playoff spot and the division crown.
“That’s the reason we’re not fighting for a playoff spot now,” said Sutter.
“I listened to what the players told me. It got way out of hand at home here in terms of it being all about individual achievement, not team achievement.”
When asked what went into the turnaround in town, Sutter shrugged.
“Better prepared,” he said.
“Exact words I was told, ‘unprofessional.’”
These fans have plenty of reason to be jacked about the club’s playoff chances given how far the bunch has come in the last six months under Sutter.
And the hits just keep on coming, as the lads are on a 9-1-1 run of late.
“We want to keep going here,” said Lindholm, whose club deserves plenty of credit for matching the intensity of several desperate opponents of late.
“My first year here (three years ago) when we clinched early I felt like we kind of slowed down before we got to the playoffs. It’s hard to turn it on again just like that. We have to keep building our game and create that good feeling heading into the playoffs.”
Johnny Gaudreau punctuated the party with an empty netter to get him to 39 on the season, setting the table for yet another milestone marker as early as Tuesday in Nashville where the Flames will open the first of three games on their final roadie of the regular season .
The goal also gave Gaudreau 111 points on the season, making it the second-highest season total in Flames lore, passing Joe Mullen’s 110.
As much as the top line has spearheaded the Flames all season, it’s no secret their secondary scoring will be key to springtime success, which is why Saturday’s performance was so encouraging to the locals.
Rare goals from Brett Ritchie and Nikita Zadorov were part of a four-goal spurt in the third period that ended the Canucks’ playoff hopes.
Dube’s two goals give him six in his last six games, playing on a third line with Blake Coleman and Calle Jarnkrok.
One of the best players in the Flames last playoff spin as a rookie, Dube has shown much more confidence and finish since the all-star break, according to Sutter.
“I think I just needed to be a lot better for this team going into the final stretch to elevate my game to get ready for playoffs,”
“It’s going a lot better of late.”