This is Geoff Ward’s so-called downtime.
Even though the Calgary Flames head coach is back home in Massachusetts, wrapping up his notes from the 2019-20 season and starting to prepare for the upcoming campaign (whenever that may start), he’s watching the Stanley Cup playoffs.
That will include flipping on the television to catch Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday, which will see the Tampa Bay Lightning battle the Dallas Stars — something Ward’s team was doing a month ago.
“They’ve just been getting better and better,” Ward said. “It’s funny. When you’re on a team and you get on that roll, your confidence goes up exponentially. When you come to the rink, when you’re feeling like they are right now, you have a really strong feeling you’re going to win the game even before you played it. Once you get to that point, it’s pretty special. But it’s a strong feeling in the room. It’s something you can feel. It’s palpable. It just feeds everybody.
“They’ve been able to do it and you can see it in how their game has progressed.”
It started with their first-round Western Conference playoff series against Ward’s Flames that ended in an emphatic 7-3 Stars victory in Game 6. If you’ve chosen to block that memory, the game saw the Flames ahead 3-0 at the end of the first period before Dallas scored seven (!) unanswered goals.
Prior to that, it certainly didn’t look one-sided. In fact, out of the gates, Calgary looked like the more confident team, especially in Games 1 and 3 which saw the Flames beat the Stars 3-2 and 2-0.
The turning point, it seemed, was Game 4 of the series as Joe Pavelski scored with 11.9 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime before Alexander Radulov potted the game-winner at the 16:05 mark Dallas.
From there, the Stars beat the Avalanche in seven games. Then the Vegas Golden Knights in five.
But it all began with their six-game series against the Flames.
“Against us, they got better every game,” Ward said. “Their defencemen who were really good against us, their goaltender was good, they had secondary scoring against us. Then as things got going, their big guys started to go. The one worry they had coming in was they weren’t scoring very much. You could see the scoring was starting to come and building. They were developing confidence in the offensive game. Then their power play got going. So you can just see they’ve just been building and building. And it’s all coming from the confidence that they have in each other and the confidence they have in their game.
“They’re in a really, really good spot emotionally … their belief level in each other is extremely high.”
Ward had the interim tag removed from his title earlier this week and became the 20th head coach in Flames’ franchise history. Before he came to Calgary to help improve their power play ahead of the 2018-19 campaign, he had been part of the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins organizations.
He’s lost as a coach, and won it all as a coach — in 2011 as the Bruins captured the Stanley Cup with Ward being part of bench boss Claude Julien’s staff.
And from his experience, being on a run like the Dallas Stars are, where every facet of their game is clicking, is one of the best feelings in hockey.
It also doesn’t happen overnight.
“It just comes in little steps,” Ward said. “You start to have some success, then your confidence in your game grows. Then you get some big moments from some of your guys in your lineup that are maybe a little bit unsung, but guys really like having them on the team. They provide big moments and guys get excited about that. Then your power play starts to go and the confidence builds there.
“The sum of the individual parts become greater than the whole.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020