It had been far too long since the C of Red filled the Scotiabank Saddledome to capacity to kick off a playoff series. Anyone in attendance at the Dome on Tuesday night could tell the Calgary Flames faithful were itching to blow the roof off the joint when they finally dropped the puck on Game 1 of their first-round battle with the Dallas Stars.
The contest bolted out of the gate with a burst of energy from both the Flames and Stars and featured huge hits, tenacious checking, great goaltending and an early power play goal that gave the home team a lead they would not relinquish. The Flames completely dominated the first half of the opening frame, but a parade to the penalty box turned a high-flying start into a literal slugfest.
Flames First Line Delivers in More Ways Than One
It took Calgary’s top-scoring trio exactly five seconds into the Flames’ first power play to connect and take the first lead of the series. Elias Lindholm won the face-off and after a couple of quick passes from Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, the Swedish center blasted a one-timer past the Stars’ Jake Oettinger.
The way this game started, it looked like the Flames’ trio of 40-goal scorers would dominate Dallas, but after outshooting the visitors 11-3 in the first period, the Stars pushed back and it ended up becoming a tough slog. It was difficult for either team to establish any rhythm, as both sides clogged up the middle and played a tight checking game.
Calgary’s top line may not have generated much offence after the power play goal, but the threesome still played an incredible two-way game and were entrusted to kill off the final minute of the contest while clinging to a one-goal lead. They probably had their best shift of the night when they hemmed Dallas in their own end, not allowing the Stars to make a final push to tie the game.
However, the biggest difference-maker of the three had to be Tkachuk. The superpest simply took his game to another level last night; throwing big hits, dropping the gloves, making smart plays, protecting the puck, and stirring up trouble after the whistle. This guy is just built for the playoffs.
“That’s a statement,” said Blake Coleman about “Chucky’s” monster game. “He’s the heartbeat right now. He’s in every scrum, he’s setting up plays, he’s scoring goals, he’s a tough guy to play against.”
Flames’ Penalty Kill Was the Difference in the Final 2 Periods
There’s an old saying that NHL referees “put away their whistles” in the playoffs. Well, I think they found a whole bunch of them last night at the Scotiabank Saddledome. There were 60 total penalty minutes called and 10 power play opportunities – five for each team. The Flames seemed to be shorthanded one minute and then back on the power play the next, and that definitely hampered the flow of the game. Another major factor was a line brawl that happened at the end of the first period after Tkachuk completely bowled over the Stars’ John Klingberg.
After the huge hit, Tkachuk fought Michael Raffl and just as that tilt was wrapping up, Rasmus Andersson and Klingberg decided to drop the gloves as well. The bout cost them both a game misconduct, since any secondary fight warrants an automatic ejection.
The Flames had to play the rest of the game with only five defenders, and while that certainly affected the penalty kill, Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin both stepped up to fill the hole in the roster and keep the Stars off the scoresheet. And, while I’m throwing out compliments to penalty killers, I should also give kudos to Lindholm for going 65 percent in the faceoff dot, giving Calgary’s possession game a huge boost.
Markstrom Wins Battle of the Netminders
Dallas had five power plays, so I was extremely impressed that the Flames held the Stars to just 16 total shots on the night. While the penalty kill gets a nice pat on the back for that, I’d say the bigger thanks should go to Calgary’s number one netminder. Jacob Markstrom had nine shutouts during the 2021-22 regular season but it was the 10th of the year (that he saved for the playoffs) that fans will remember the most.
While it wasn’t the busiest night for Markstrom, he did well to stay sharp in a game where he didn’t have to be great. He just had to be solid and he certainly was that, making three very nice saves in the third period when Dallas was pressing to tie up the contest. But, that’s what we’ve come to expect from the big Swede after posting a career year. Meanwhile, at the other end of the ice, the Stars’ Oettinger stopped 25 of 26 and was a big reason Dallas hung around for the entire 60 minutes. Every time the Flames tried to extend the lead, the 23-year-old was there to shut the door.
Expect More of the Same in Game 2 on Thursday Night
A very physical tone was set early in Game 1, and I think that suits the Flames just fine. The home team out-hit Dallas 34-10 last night, and found a way to grind out a tough win. After the game, Stars head coach Rick Bowness promised his squad would be ready for another punishing contest when the two teams face off again on Thursday.
“They thought they were going to run us out of the rink and I’m proud of our guys,” said Bowness. “We’re going to stand up to everything they throw at us. We’re going to stand up to them and we’re going to play through it.”
While I’d love to see way fewer penalties, I don’t mind seeing more big hits, more tough puck battles and whole lot more bad blood.
Greg Tysowski is a former broadcast journalist who chose the exciting life of a stay-at-home dad for over a decade. He’s now a published author, parenting blogger and aspiring sports writer covering the Calgary Flames for The Hockey Writers. Greg is also a regular contributor to the weekly roundtable discussion “Flames Faceoff”, now streaming on YouTube and all podcast outlets.