Cam Talbot was a bit of a surprise start in net for the Calgary Flames. Not that he hasn’t been good. In fact, Talbot has been excellent in six starts posting a .927 save percentage (SV%) with four wins and two losses before Game 3 against the Dallas Stars. That included the five goals he let in Game 2.
It was David Rittich who started 48 regular-season games to Talbot’s 26 and even though Rittich saved 10 fewer goals than expected, his track record as the bulk regular-season starter seemed to indicate he could at least split back-to-back starts.
The Flames were without elite agitator Matthew Tkachuk for Game 3 after leaving Game 2 during the first period. Despite that fact, the Flames were still able to outhit the Stars 37-31 with Sam Bennett leading the way with eight hits. The Flames continue to be the more physical team with Bennett and Andrew Mangiapane sitting first and third in hits during the 2020 playoffs.
Neither of those players though bring the special blend of skill, tenacity, and ability to get under the opponent’s skin quite like Tkachuk. According to Rotoworld, Tkachuk is a game-time decision for Game 4 on Sunday. The Flames were able to win one game without him, but I’m not sure they can close out the series so easily without him.
Flames Capitalize and Stars Don’t
The first period was a bit back and forth, with both teams getting quality chances. The Stars went without a shot on goal in the last eight minutes of the 1st period. The Flames grabbed the lead on a shorthanded tally by Mikael Backlund. In one of the few mistakes he made this game, Miro Heiskanen failed to pin the puck against the boards leading to a shorthanded chance against. Roope Hintz fell down leaving Corey Perry to play defense against Backlund. It wasn’t a great chance, in fact, Anton Khudobin tipped the puck over his own left leg and into the net.
The Stars tilted the ice in the second period after the goal and limited the Flames to just four shots on goal in the frame. Not only did the Stars outshoot the Flames 16-4 in the second, but they had six high danger scoring chances to the Flames’ one. The Flames only had six high danger scoring chances the entire game. Despite a dominant period, the Stars were not able to solve Talbot.
Missed Opportunity and Frustration
With 38 seconds left in the second period, a tired T.J. Brodie tripped a streaking and fresh Andrew Cogliano. The end of the play resulted in broken glass so the period ended and carried the 38 seconds over to start the 3rd period. This was an advantage for the Stars who got to start their power play with a fresh sheet of ice.
They didn’t score with the fresh sheet of ice, but they have an excellent chance that John Klingberg just flubbed on the short side. It really felt like this was the missed opportunity that began to stack the deck against the Stars. Instead of confidently continuing to apply pressure, they seemed frustrated and unwilling to get their noses dirty to score a fluky goal.
Midway through the third, Brodie scored on a seeing-eye slapshot past Khudobin for the second goal of the game. This is exactly the kind of goal the Stars need to score. Talbot saw just about every shot with very little traffic in front. The Stars need to make life much more difficult for Talbot if they hope to even the series and not go down three games to one.
Special Teams Not Special
The Stars failed to convert on four power-play opportunities and gave up a shorthanded goal. They need their power play to start converting if they hope to come back in this series and they obviously can’t be giving up shorthanded goals. According to Mike Heika of DallasStars.com Tyler Seguin put it best, “With the opportunities we’ve gotten, we’ve got to make sure we get at least a goal or two a night, especially in the playoffs.” I couldn’t agree more, assuming they want the playoff run to continue.
Need to Convert Opportunities
Despite 10 high danger scoring chances, and 3.06 expected goals for (xGF), the Stars came away empty-handed. They are driving play and creating offense, something they weren’t doing as well in the round-robin or early against Calgary, but they still need to convert. On the bright side, the 3.06 xGF did not come at the expense of expected goals against, which was only 1.52.
As interim coach Rick Bowness told Heika, “Some of our best scoring chances were missing the net. It’s hard to explain that one. We hit goal posts, we missed open nets.”
Perhaps the Stars are just gripping their sticks a little tight or they are nervous, at any rate, they better start converting in a hurry. Only 29 teams in NHL history have come back to win a series after going down 3-1 in a best of seven series.
Khudobin, who has been great this season, was a bit unlucky in this game. While you could make the case that Khudobin would be a reasonable choice to start Game 4, Ben Bishop will have had two full days of rest and should make his second start this series. While he got the win in Game 2, Bishop was not great.
In fact, in his two starts in the Edmonton bubble, Bishop has an .862 save percentage and 4.04 goals-against average. Even less flattering is that Bishop has let in three more goals than expected and three more goals than an average goalie would. Not great from what was supposed to be the strength of this team.
The Stars have a blueprint now of how to beat the Flames. They need to play the entire series as they did for stretches in Game 3 where they are the odds-on favorite. If they continue to generate more scoring chances, especially those of the high danger variety, eventually they will start converting their chances.
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Talbot has played a lot of hockey in a short amount of time so the Stars have to hope he won’t continue this magical turnaround in his game. The goaltender continues to outperform his expected goals allowed, something he hasn’t done consistently since the 2017-18 season for the Edmonton Oilers. If the Stars continue to generate as many xGF as they did in Game 3 for the rest of the series, they should be successful.