Last Monday, Cowtown awoke with renewed hope that a Calgary Flames playoff run was still possible. After a 6-1 thumping of the Ottawa Senators the night before, all the Flames needed was for the Montreal Canadiens to lose their two remaining games in regulation time and to sweep their four-game set with the Vancouver Canucks.
That fantasy came to an abrupt end by nightfall when the Habs earned a point in an overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers to eliminate both the Flames and the Canucks from playoff contention. Mercifully, the Canadiens put a bullet in a miserable 2020-21 campaign for the Flames, and they can now focus on next season.
Despite what many believe, statistics prove that the Flames are a sub-.500 team ranked in the bottom-tier of the league. With four meaningless games left in the season, fans could look forward to seeing the organization’s prospects in the lineup strutting their stuff for a spot on next season’s roster.
Thursday Night – Vancouver at Calgary
The Flames laid a 4-1 beating on their rivals from the west coast on Thursday night at the Saddledome thanks to an outstanding performance by netminder Jacob Markstrom and goals by Rasmus Andersson, Andrew Mangiapane, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk.
The game was entertaining and a lot closer than the final score indicated. From the first five minutes until Calgary potted two goals in the last five of the third frame, the game was 2-1 as snipers from both sides traded chances in a free-wheeling contest.
Summing up his team’s effort on the night, Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said, “They scored the early goal, and we showed some resilience to come back and score the two to win the first period, and then I think in the second, Jacob (Markstrom) made a lot of good saves early. The power play put it away in the third.”
What may have been more interesting than the game itself was speculating about why the only prospects in the game were Oliver Kylington and Glenn Gawdin. While no one is suggesting that the Flames should throw their last four games to improve their standings in the draft, playing as many prospects as possible would help if that’s their goal.
Playing Markstrom was also a head-scratcher given that many wanted a peek at the team’s backup options for next season. However, knowing how much Markstrom loves to play, he probably begged for one more game between the pipes. Thursday’s tilt was his 14th straight start and 20th win on the season.
In what felt like a déjà vu, the Flames fell behind just over one minute into the first stanza when Matthew Highmore scored on a beautiful little tip-in off a shot from the top of the circle by former Flames defenseman Travis Hamonic. Markstrom had no chance on the play.
Calgary answered back a few minutes later when Lindholm snagged a turnover at the Flames’ blue line on a failed Canucks exit. He then found Johnny Gaudreau down low in the corner who faked a pass to Lindholm only to slide the puck over to an open Andersson charging in from the point on the far side. All alone in the slot, Andersson snapped the puck past Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko to even the score.
Just over 90-seconds later, Andrew Mangiapane tipped a point shot from Nikita Nesterov past Demko to score the winning goal. Joakim Nordstrom was the architect on the play chasing down the puck in the Canucks’ corner and firing it back to Nesterov at the point. Of Nordstrom, Sutter said, “He plays the same way every night, he works hard, finishes checks, gets in the way of pucks, blocks shots, a good penalty killer, got a lot of energy every night. He’s a good player for us.”
Markstrom kept the Flames in the game in the second frame, which allowed them to get back to Sutter’s style of play in the third period with a simple north-south flow and fast execution. As Kylington explained: “In the second, I thought we came out flat-footed, and then Marky made some great saves and kept us in the game, and in the third, we got back to our game and tried to get pucks deep and work them down low and that paid off.”
With just over five minutes remaining in the game, Lindholm iced the game with a breakaway goal that began at Calgary’s end. Chris Tanev moved the puck up the boards quickly to Tkachuk, who chipped it past the Vancouver defence to find Lindholm free in the neutral zone with only open ice between him and Demko. Tkachuk made it 4-1 a minute later on the power play when J.T. Miller deflected what should have been Tkachuk’s harmless pass to Lindholm into the back of Demko’s net.
Sunday Night – Calgary at Vancouver
After blowing a four-goal lead in the third period, the Flames stole a 6-5 win over the Canucks off Lindholm’s overtime winner at Rogers Centre on Sunday night. With the win, the Flames clinched fifth in the North Division, and Lindholm’s goal was his 19th of the season to tie Johnny Gaudreau for the team lead.
The game was tough to watch for both Canucks and Flames fans, especially after seeing the New York Islanders defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 Sunday afternoon in playoff action.
Acknowledging he wasn’t pleased with the performance of his team in the third frame, Sutter said, “It was just special teams, third period and our penalty killing wasn’t very good in the third, and our power play wasn’t very good all night, and there wasn’t a whole lot going on out there.”
The lineup featured four prospects, including Connor Mackey, Adam Ruzicka and for unknown reasons, Dominik Simon. Markstrom was back in goal, suggesting the Flames know all they need to about their backup options for next season.
Josh Leivo notched the Flames’ first goal at 9:30 of the first period. In the second stanza, the boys in red took a 5-1 lead into the third, led by Mangiapane’s two goals. The spirited left-winger now has 13 goals at 5-on-5 to lead the team. Tkachuk and Milan Lucic rounded out the scoring in the second.
The third period was a duck shoot for the Canucks whose snipers lit up the Flames’ goal light with four unanswered goals, including two on the power play and one shorthanded. Brock Boeser accounted for two of the four markers and was named the game’s first star.
Ruzicka, playing his first game in the Flaming C, looked solid, and Sutter said of the rookie’s first outing with the big club: “I thought early he was a little tentative then he won a couple of faceoffs and got banging around a little bit and then his game got better.”
Studs and Duds of the Week
Markstrom – for stellar play between the pipes in Thursday’s win.
Lindholm, Tkachuk and Gaudreau – who combined for six of the Flames’ 12 points on Thursday night.
Mangiapane – who put up two goals Sunday night in a three-point week. Let’s hope he continues that performance for Team Canada in the upcoming International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship that gets underway Friday night
The Week Ahead
The Flames close out their season with two games against the Canucks on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon, while the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals get ready for Game 3 of their first-round series. In fact, as of May 17, all series involving U.S. teams will be underway.
Every other team in the league is finished with their regular season but because of the three-week halt to the Canucks’ schedule caused by COVID-19, these two tilts will be the first time in NHL history that regular-season games will overlap with the playoffs.
The Flames will likely face an exhausted Vancouver given that they will have played six games in 10 days by the time they take to the ice on Tuesday afternoon and since the games are meaningless, some have questioned why the league insists they be played.
According to Tom Mayenknecht, a Vancouver-based sports marketing expert, it’s “because of the business operations side of things, trying to get as much of the pro-rated television and radio money as possible, be able to say they got 56/82nds of a season in” (from “Flames and Canucks have little to gain playing out remaining games”, The Globe and Mail, 15/05/2021).
It was a long time coming, but Sunday night, Flames fans finally got a glimpse of the prospects hoping to wear the Flaming C next season. There are a few others we’d like to see called up, including Matthew Phillips, and the Flames have two games left to showcase their future ahead of next season.
Paul covers the Calgary Flames, the Ottawa Senators and the OHL’s Ottawa 67s for The Hockey Writers (THW). He also hosts the Flames Faceoff show for THW’s Podcast Network.
Paul has been sought for media interviews for the thoughtful pieces he has written on hockey’s response to the major social and political issues of the day including the place of gay players in the game. Paul is also known for his interesting perspectives on the key issues and challenges facing the teams he follows.
Of his work with THW, Paul says, “I love to tell stories about the game of hockey and the personalities – both past and present, who have made it the greatest game on the planet!”
Follow him on Twitter at @pquinney