Calgary Flames fans shuttered when they saw their team’s projected lines heading into a crucial Game 4 against the Dallas Stars. It was impossible to notice that penciled in on the third line was Brett Ritchie, a player who managed just three goals and four points in 41 games this season. It seemed to be an odd choice to promote him while demoting Andrew Mangiapane, given the fact the entire roster had managed just three goals through the first three games of the series.
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As it turns out, however, having Ritchie on the second line during rushes in practice appears to have been clever gamesmanship from Darryl Sutter, as the 28-year-old wasn’t only absent from the second line, but the whole lineup entirely, as he ended up being listed as a healthy scratch shortly before puck drop. Whether or not it was a coincidence with Sutter’s mind games, the Flames’ offence finally came to life in Game 4, as they were able to fire four past Jake Oettinger while also registering 54 shots on net in what ended as a 4-1 final.
Leading the way was Johnny Gaudreau, who responded well after being called out by Sutter two nights prior. He scored on a penalty shot in the third to put his team up 2-0, before setting up Elias Lindholm less than five minutes later to extend the lead to three. It was a crucial performance for Johnny Hockey, as whispers were starting to arise in relation to his past playoff struggles. While Monday night’s performance was certainly a step in the right direction, this Flames team needs him and Matthew Tkachuk, amongst others, to amp things up if they hope to go on a deep playoff run.
Gaudreau & Tkachuk Showing Signs of Life
While there were several reasons the Flames were able to have such a great 2021-22 season, perhaps the biggest of all was the play of their top line. All three of Gaudreau, Tkachuk and Lindholm were able to set career highs and formed a line that was arguably the best we saw from any team in the NHL.
Most were confident that with the great regular season, those three along with the rest of the Flames roster should have no problems keeping things rolling in the playoffs. That hasn’t exactly been the case, however, as their offence was almost nonexistent in the opening three games versus the Stars. Thankfully, it came alive on Monday, which is something they will need to continue doing in order to prove their doubters wrong.
Those doubting the Flames’ top players certainly have some reason to based on what we have seen in the past. Despite having an assist last night, Tkachuk has just eight points in 19 career playoff games, with only five of those coming at even strength. His style of game suggests he is a player who should excel at this time of the year, and that is the hope this Spring, though we have yet to see him at his best through the first four games of this series.
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As mentioned, Gaudreau was fantastic on Monday night. It was very important he was, as another off night could have led to some major scrutiny for the potential Hart Trophy candidate. Like Tkachuk, he too has had his fair share of playoff struggles in the past. In fact, prior to Game 4, his 5v5 points per 60 ranked 346th out of the 350 players that had played in 200 or more minutes in the playoffs since 2017. That is a shockingly bad stat for a player who has been one of the game’s more productive wingers throughout his eight-year NHL career. If last night is any indication, however, it appears he is starting to get more comfortable in the playoff environment.
Secondary Scoring Needs to Help Out
Of course, just like in the past, Gaudreau and Tkachuk aren’t the only ones who need to up their scoring totals and build off of last night. Blake Coleman, Andrew Mangiapane and Dillon Dube are all pointless through four games, while Tyler Toffoli and Calle Jarnkrok have combined for just two assists. Again, it’s early, but there are a lot of individuals on this team who will need to improve their games moving forward.
With all that being said, there is still plenty to be optimistic about with this Flames team. On paper, there are few rosters that are as good as the one Brad Treliving has assembled, which is why so many experts predicted them to go on a lengthy playoff run. If Gaudreau and Tkachuk are able to amp things up to the level they played at in the regular season, and the other guys mentioned above are able to chip in with their fair share of offence as well, this is a team that has a legitimate shot at winning the Stanley Cup this June.