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Calgary Flames players celebrate after the team's goal against the Dallas Stars during Game 1 of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Saddledome on May 3.Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

For anyone still questioning the evolution of the Calgary Flames, the final 30 seconds of Tuesday night’s playoff-opening victory over the Dallas Stars told their own story.

Despite a roster featuring safe, dependable, defensively conscious forwards such as Blake Coleman and Trevor Lewis – each a two-time Stanley Cup champion – head coach Darryl Sutter turned to his top line to see the game out.

Not content with tasking 40-goal scorers Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm to provide the offence – which they did in combining for the game’s only goal – Sutter is leaning on them to get their team across the finish line, too.

Flames take opening game with 1-0 win over Stars

That they did it seemingly with ease, keeping the Stars hemmed into their own end from an offensive-zone faceoff before forcing an icing call that essentially salted the game away, said plenty about the transformation of the Flames into a playoff force.

“They’re good players and it’s an opportunity to take another step in their development, to go from a good regular season to having a good first game in the playoffs,” Sutter said on Wednesday during an off-day in the series.

After a number of false dawns in previous postseasons with the talented trio often left to shoulder much of the responsibility, the opportunity to diversify their games is something that the players have embraced, particularly at this time of year.

“Playoff hockey is the best hockey and we haven’t had much success in it,” Tkachuk said ahead of Thursday’s Game 2.

The skillful winger is all too aware of the team’s previous misdeeds, having gone minus four with just three points when the top-seeded Flames crashed out of the 2019 playoffs in five games against the Colorado Avalanche. Gaudreau and Lindholm didn’t fare much better that year, accounting for a combined minus seven and just three points.

But in a series in which scoring is likely to be limited, with both teams finishing in the top half of the league in goals against with a pair of starting goalies boasting save percentages at .914 or better, ensuring that the team can hang on to its leads is going to be of paramount importance.

Tkachuk emphasized that Sutter has been putting the trio in that situation for much of the year in preparation for these playoffs. But even more important, this Flames squad has shown itself adaptable to almost every situation.

“A good thing about our team is I feel like we can play any style,” he said. “Whether it’s big and physical, high scoring, low scoring, we’ve had a few 1-0 games this year, we’ve had a few nine-goal games and everything in between.”

Case in point was the first period, during which Gaudreau and Tkachuk combined to set up Lindholm with barely five minutes on the clock, before Tkachuk levelled John Klingberg in the dying seconds of the period, a hit that precipitated a pair of fights.

First Tkachuk and Michael Raffl dropped the gloves, before Klingberg eventually persuaded Rasmus Andersson to do the same, a move that earned both game misconducts and had an emotional Klingberg attaching a proverbial target to Andersson’s back for the rest of the series in a post-game interview.

Consider the Flames nonplussed about any threats emanating from the Dallas locker room.

Despite a roster featuring safe, defensively conscious forwards, Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter turned to his top line to see the game out against the Dallas Stars.Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

“We’ve got a lot of a lot of team toughness and just kind of a pack mentality where we like to stick up for each other and kind of play that hard style,” Tkachuk said. “And there’s not one guy on the team that is afraid of that.”

A loud and raucous Saddledome – playing host to an NHL playoff game for the first time in more than three years – helped fuel the emotion that Tkachuk thrives on. In just his 16th career playoff game, the former London Knights standout was a whirlwind, racking up three hits to go along with his fight and assist.

But as long as he can remain disciplined, and not allow his emotions to get out of hand, that’s exactly the kind of style that his teammates are counting on him to provide for the rest of this series, and hopefully beyond.

“Matthew, he’s a leader on our team,” defenceman Noah Hanifin said. “That’s when he’s playing his best hockey, when he gets that emotion going and he’s a physical presence. But he’s also got so much skill and he can play any type of game. I think he’s a player that’s definitely built for the playoffs.”

Much of the chatter heading into Thursday’s Game 2 revolved around whether Klingberg and the Stars would go out of their way to target Andersson – not exactly a noted pugilist – over the rest of the series. When asked how his defenceman would respond to such a threat, Sutter’s response revealed much about his team’s new-found sense of resolve.

“Just play,” he said. “It’s the playoffs. Guys get hit, that’s the way it works. Guys that don’t get hit usually lose.”