CALGARY — En route back to Calgary from Winnipeg after their last game of the regular season, the Flames players who were checking their phones saw their first-round playoff opponent flip suddenly from the Nashville Predators to the Dallas Stars in a matter of minutes.
The Predators were 4-0 on the Arizona Coyotes seven minutes into their regular-season finale Friday and looked certain to start the NHL post-season against the Flames just a week after an antagonistic clash of the two clubs in Nashville.
But the combination of an improbable Coyotes comeback in regulation time and Dallas doubling the Anaheim Ducks 4-2 vaulted the Stars over the Predators by a point and set up a playoff date with the Flames starting Tuesday at the Saddledome.
The Coyotes, doomed to the Western Conference basement, wouldn't go quietly against Nashville with five unanswered goals starting at 13:21 of the first period and ending at 10:27 of the third in a 5-4 win.
The Predators dropped into the conference's second wild-card berth behind Dallas and into a first-round matchup with the top-seeded Colorado Avalanche.
"I guess if you looked at the score last night when it was four-nothing, a little bit of a plot twist, but we knew that there was possibility of couple different teams," said Flames forward Blake Coleman on Saturday.
"We were on the flight and just kind of checking in on the score here and there. Guys were kind of wondering what was going on. At one point there, you started to assume maybe Nashville. It was just in the cards for us to play Dallas."
The best-of-seven series opens in Calgary with games Tuesday and Thursday before heading to American Airlines Center for Game 3 on May 7 and Game 4 on May 9.
The Flames (50-21-11) went 2-0-1 versus the Stars (46-30-6) this season, including a 4-2 win April 21 at the Saddledome to clinch first place in the Pacific Division.
"Two close teams," Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said. "I said the last few days I thought it would be Dallas. It was Dallas."
Calgary's dramatic 5-4 overtime win over Nashville on Tuesday that featured 56 minutes in penalties (including two fights), 74 hits and Matthew Tkachuk's tying goal with a tenth of a second left had increased anticipation of a Calgary-Nashville matchup.
The Flames have recent post-season history with the Stars, however.
After beating the Winnipeg Jets in the qualifying round of the NHL's 2020 playoff bubble in Edmonton, the Flames were ousted in the first round in six games by the Stars, who went onto the Stanley Cup final and fell in six games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"They've got some guys that have had playoff experience," said Coleman, who was a member of the Lightning that year.
"They're a big strong team. They're going to be a tough out. They're good in their own building. We've got to prepare the right way. We know there's not going to be any easy games in the playoffs. We'll start our preparation starting today and it's going to be a good test."
The 35-year-old winger from Plano, Texas, looks forward to playing post-season hockey in his home state.
"It's awesome," Coleman said. "It was fun getting to play Dallas in the finals couple years ago, hearing from anybody and everybody I ever played with or met at a hockey rink.
"That was fun for me, but this is a totally different experience, getting to play in front of family and friends at home. I'm excited for it.
"At the end of the day, it's just another playoff game and playoff environment that we've got to win in. Just eliminate any distractions and play my game and do what I can't help the team."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2022.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press