Limping to the finish line last year was an unforgettable experience.
The Calgary Flames watched a 12-point lead over the Vancouver Canucks at the trade deadline disappear down the stretch.
In the final days, they couldn’t even ice a full team to compete for the division title.
Looks like Darryl Sutter learned his lesson.
The salary cap crunch of a year ago — brought about in part by the expensive acquisition of Olli Jokinen (how’d that one work out?) — won’t be repeated with nearly $2-million to spare under the ceiling.
And no one is wondering why the Flames GM decided to keep 15 forwards around after the trade deadline.
Nigel Dawes drew back into the lineup when Christopher Higgins went down with a leg injury.
Friday night it was Mikael Backlund’s turn to get off the sidelines with Curtis Glencross on crutches because of a knee issue.
They’ll need every bit of help as they try to sneak into the playoffs with 11 games remaining following Friday’s match with the San Jose Sharks.
“It’s great. We’ve got guys like Dawes stepping in and filling in well — I know he was anxious to get his chance. You’ve got a guy like Backs (Backlund) sitting there waiting, and Grats (Brian McGrattan). All capable guys who can do the job,” said defenceman Cory Sarich, who was forced to watch the late flop last year after breaking his ankle.
“We had hardly any bodies around the dressing room. It was absolutely ridiculous.
“We had a lot of injured bodies, but not enough guys in the lineup.”
Sarich, Robyn Regehr and Adrian Aucoin were all injured late last year.
Winger Rene Bourque also went down with a high-ankle sprain, and Dustin Boyd had to be sent back to the minors to keep the Flames from going over the cap.
If the worst happens and more players join Glencross and Higgins in the trainers’ room, Sutter has the option of bringing guys up from the farm.
It’s just too bad they can’t have Jamie Lundmark back. He was scooped up on waivers by the Toronto Maple Leafs, and would have been a nice veteran option with only tough guy Brian McGrattan currently waiting in the wings.
“Guys were probably a little bit surprised when we had as many guys after the deadline,” said captain Jarome Iginla, who looks at it as bad news the team is being bitten by the injury bug again, but good news they have replacements this time around.
“To have players that have played and contributed and played regularly in the NHL, and Backlund come up and already be a big part of our team and played in key moments — you never expect it but it’s nice to have that depth.”
The lack of it hurt the Flames a year ago.
Not only did they lose the Northwest Division to the Canucks, but the Flames went into the playoffs cold against a tough Chicago Blackhawks team in the first round.
“I think down the stretch there, with all the travel we did, it maybe wore on us a little bit,” winger David Moss said of the handful of games they played with 17 or 18 skaters instead of the usual 20.
He couldn’t imagine how difficult things would be if it were the same this year with the team playing every second night and in a see-saw battle with the Detroit Red Wings for the last playoff berth.
“That would be tough,” he said.
“The last few games we were playing with nine forwards,” added Eric Nystrom.
“It’s good to have that depth and have guys that can contribute, because we’re going to need it.”