It is no big secret that Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter can be extremely stingy with his compliments. The sometimes-cantankerous 63-year-old bench boss is also famous for calling out his players when he sees fit and for unapologetically telling it like it is. However, during the Flames’ first round series with the Dallas Stars, Sutter has taken his patented “tough love” coaching style to the next level.
Expectations in Calgary were sky-high when the boys in red finished the 2021-22 regular season first in the Pacific and were matched up with the wild card Stars in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Yes, memories of the 2019 collapse against the Colorado Avalanche were still fresh in many fans’ minds, but this time was supposed to be different. This time, the Flames had a future hall-of-fame coach with two Stanley Cup rings calling the shots.
When the Flames’ offence completely dried up in the first three games, their head coach didn’t seem too fussed about being down 2-1 to the Stars and simply described the low-scoring series as “playoff hockey.” Heading into the pivotal Game 4 in Dallas on Monday night, it really felt like a must-win game for the visitors. History shows that teams that go up 3-1 in the NHL postseason have a 90% chance of winning the series.
That’s how much was riding on the line in Game 4, and that’s why Sutter’s rather mundane postgame reaction to knotting up the series at 2-2 was exactly what his team needed.
Sutter’s Muted Reaction to Flames’ Pivotal Game 4 Victory Right on Brand
After the Flames’ convincing 4-1 victory over the Stars in Game 4, the utter relief seen on the Flames’ faces was palatable. A series that was this close from getting away from the boys in red has now been reset to a best of three, with Calgary holding home-ice advantage. It was a huge win, but Sutter’s postgame message to his troops was all of five words, ” Good game, best of three.” Nobody got a pat on the back, no flowery speech about perseverance – just those five simple words.
The next day, the players seemed to take that simple message to heart when speaking with the media. Jacob Markstrom, who is probably the team’s MVP at this point, sounded like a “Sutter clone” when talking with reporters about the crucial Game 4 victory.
“I mean, what do you cerebrate, really?” Markstrom said. “We haven’t won anything, we haven’t done anything. We won a game, but it’s a best of seven series. We’ve got to prepare for the game tomorrow.”
It sure looks like Sutter’s mantra of never getting too high or getting too low is the perfect way to navigate a series that has seen dramatic momentum swings during its first four games.
Gaudreau’s Dramatic Penalty Shot Moment Got Zero Love From Sutter
Appearing on NHL on TNT’s postgame coverage, Johnny Gaudreau talked to the panel about his critical penalty shot goal, and Paul Bissonnette cut right to the chase with his first question, “Johnny Hockey, anything from Sutter after you score that goal when you get back to the bench?” Gaudreau answered with a smile, “Nope, not a word.” After a round of laughter from the TNT crew, Bissonnette followed up with, “Come on, did he save it for postgame or on the plane, or what?” Gaudreau said, “No, nothing. He just came in and said ‘good game, best of three’, that’s it. And then he walked out.”
Gaudreau’s goal gave the Flames a 2-0 lead in Game 4, and erased the bad memory of missing on a late third-period breakaway chance that could have sent Game 3 to overtime. After that game, Sutter called out his leading scorer for the missed opportunity. “We had a breakaway with, what, two or three minutes left?” said Sutter. “Those guys have to put it away. That’s their job.” I’m not surprised that the head coach didn’t gush over “Johnny Hockey’s” exciting deke that helped ice Monday night’s victory for the Flames, but that’s not who he is and that’s not his job.
Sutter’s Even-Keel Demeanor Will Keep the Flames Grounded
There’s been a lot of talk of how a similarly successful Flames team completely unraveled in 2019 after they lost Game 2 to the Colorado Avalanche in. In fact, Mikael Backlund mentioned how blowing a lead, losing in overtime and missing their chance to go up 2-0 in the series was a huge letdown.
“I felt in the past, ’18-’19, we got really high off the first game and really low off the second game and just could never really recover to that loss at home against Colorado,” said Backlund.
I can guarantee that the Flames didn’t get really high after their opening Game 1 win over the Dallas Stars. Their head coach simply wouldn’t let them. Sutter knows his squad still has a lot to prove and exactly 14 more games to win before he’ll start patting anyone on the back. People say there are teams that are built for the playoffs, but in Calgary’s case; I think it’s the coach.
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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.