4 Best Calgary Flames Playoff Runs in Franchise History

In the 2022–23 season, the Calgary Flames celebrated their 50th season in the NHL and ended their 42nd season in southern Alberta after eight years in Atlanta, Georgia. Unfortunately, the club failed to qualify for the playoffs, marking the second time in the last three years that they did not contest for the Stanley Cup.

Historically, the Flames have won the Stanley Cup once and reached the Finals three times during their 31 postseason appearances. Despite only making ten appearances this century, the team enjoyed historic success in the 1970s and 1980s, posting a 16-year playoff streak, one of the best the league has ever seen.

Related: Replaying Flames’ 16-year Stanley Cup playoff streak

Surprisingly, the team has only made it through the first round ten times, meaning there hasn’t been a significant number of monumental playoff runs yet. Additionally, the Flames are 4-6 in Round 2, leaving us with a limited number of storylines to revisit.

Let’s take a trip back in time to relive the best playoff games in Flames history.

Flames lose in six semifinal games (1981)

The Atlanta Flames debuted in October 1972, qualified for the playoffs in their second season, and lost in the first round. After missing the postseason in 1974–75, the team rebounded the following year and began their 16-year winning streak.

Kent Nilsson Calgary Flames
Kent Nilsson, Calgary Flames (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

Despite five straight first-round eliminations and a change in 1980, the team finally broke the proverbial glass ceiling in its first season in Calgary. During the preliminary round, the Flames defeated an Original Six team, the Chicago Blackhawks, in three games and drew against the Philadelphia Flyers in the quarterfinals.

Despite Calgary building a 3-1 lead in the series, the Flyers came back and forced Game 7, which they lost 4-1, allowing the Flames to advance to the semifinals. Then, just before reaching the Stanley Cup Finals, Calgary faced the Minnesota North Stars, who won the series in six games.

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Surprisingly, Guy Chouinard led the team in the playoffs with 17 points in 16 games, while Ken Houston (15 points), Paul Reinhart (15), Bob MacMillan (14), Willi Plett (12), Kent Nilsson (12) and Don Lever (11) all reached double digits. Meanwhile, Pat Riggin played in 11 games and posted a record of 6-4, while Réjean Lemelin had a record of 3-3 in six games.

Although the Flames didn’t win that season, Nilsson set the franchise record for regular-season points that year, scoring 131 points in 82 games. Ultimately, this year was just a coming-out party as the team was one of the more dominant franchises for the rest of the decade.

Flames end seven-year playoff drought, lose in Stanley Cup Finals (2004)

After qualifying for the playoffs 21 times from 1973–74 to 1995–96, the Flames set a franchise record by missing the postseason seven straight seasons from 1996–97 to 2002–03. As the last remaining members of the Stanley Cup victor (1989) began to leave town, the franchise began to build around its new young superstar, Jarome Iginla.

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In the first round, the Flames took on the Vancouver Canucks and this clash in western Canada did not disappoint as Calgary clinched a 3-2 win in Game 7 of overtime. Although Iginla scored two goals in the competition, the hero was Martin Gelinas, scoring a power-play goal as early as 1:25 into extra time.

Then the Flames traveled to Detroit to face the Red Wings and beat the Original Six franchise in six games, with Miikka Kiprusoff scoring shutouts in Games 5 and 6. Now the Flames are in the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 1989. They faced the San Jose Sharks and eliminated their California rivals in six games, with each team in the series recording a shutout. After the win, Calgary bought their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals.

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Although the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals marked the Tampa Bay Lightning’s first win, many fans remember the series for other reasons. Aside from taking two of the league’s best players to the ground in a fight (Iginla vs. Vincent Lecavalier), Gelinas scored a potentially game-winning goal in Game 6, but it was canceled due to insufficient video evidence of the puck crossing the boundary exceeded. Ultimately, the Flames would lose that game in overtime before losing 2-1 in Game 7.

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Not surprisingly, Iginla led all Calgary players with 22 points in 26 games and finished third among his teammates with 45 penalty minutes. Meanwhile, Kiprusoff played all but 19 minutes in 26 games and posted a 15-11 record with five shutouts. Had the Flames ultimately won the Stanley Cup, voters would have had trouble picking the MVP between those two.

Flames reach first Stanley Cup final (1986)

Five years after playing in the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time, the Flames were on a mission to get over the hill in 1985-86. As the second-best team in the Campbell Conference, they found themselves on the right flank of one of the worst setbacks in NHL history and carried the momentum all the way to the Finals.

Al MacInnis
Al MacInnis, Calgary Flames (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

After Calgary opened the playoffs with a three-game win over the Winnipeg Jets, they drew in the second round against reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Edmonton Oilers. Ultimately, the teams traded wins in the first six games and drew 2-2 in the third period of Game 7. Then, early in the final period, Oilers defenseman Steve Smith scored in his own net to give the Flames a 3-score-2 win, crushing the Edmonton Dynasty.

Even with Calgary back in the last four, it wasn’t easy as the St. Louis Blues also forced a Game 7 which the Flames survived with a 2-1 win and set up a duel with the Montreal Canadiens. Ultimately, with the hot hand of rookie goalie and eventual Conn Smythe Trophy winner Patrick Roy, the Flames were no match for the Canadiens, who won the series in five games.

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Statistically, a veteran and freshman led the team in points standings, with Joe Mullen and Al MacInnis each amassing 19 points, one point more than Lanny McDonald and Reinhart. Meanwhile, 21-year-old Mike Vernon was the protagonist, playing 21 games and posting a 12-9 record compared to Lemelin, who lost 1-0 in three games.

Flames win first Stanley Cup title (1989)

During the 1987-88 regular season, the Flames were the league’s top team, winning the Presidents’ Trophy before being defeated by eventual champions, the Oilers, in the second round. Surprisingly, Calgary did better the following season, setting franchise records for wins (54) and points (117) while also winning the second straight Presidents’ Trophy.

Calgary Flames 1989 Stanley Cup
Calgary Flames pose with the Stanley Cup in 1989. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

Shockingly, the league’s best team came close to defeat in the opening series against the Canucks and needed overtime to win 4-3 and advance to the next game. Ultimately, their route to the Stanley Cup Finals after the first round was easy as the Flames lost just one game to the Blackhawks in the Conference Finals after beating the Los Angeles Kings in the Division Finals.

As fate would have it, the Canadiens finished top of the Wales Conference, setting up a repeat of the 1986 Finals. Though most rosters featured the same players, this time around the Flames were led to the championship in six games by their youthful core, led by Conn Smythe winner MacInnis.

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Ultimately, the 1989 Flames roster consisted of five future Hockey Hall of Fame inductees, including MacInnis, Mullen, McDonald, Doug Gilmour, and Joe Nieuwendyk. Statistically, 10 players achieved double-digit scores, with three amassing more than 20 points. Meanwhile, Vernon became the only goaltender in team history to record 16 wins in a single postseason and go 16-5 in 22 games.

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As of June 2023, the Flames are one of 20 teams to win a Stanley Cup with a 2-1 record in the Finals. Ultimately, three of her best playoff runs resulted in a championship shot, which accounted for 9% of her postseason appearances. Overall, anyone who looks at Calgary’s history will recognize that the top four playoff runs represent different eras of the franchise.

Related: Calgary Flames Retreat Numbers

Considering it’s been 19 years since their last memorable run, the Flames are long overdue to display a second Stanley Cup banner at the Scotiabank Saddledome before closure.

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