So you’re saying there’s a chance….
You have to admire Brent Sutter’s optimism. His team turns in one of its worst performances of the year, and he’s on the Fan 960 pontificating about how they just need to take care of business and get some help on the out-of-town scoreboard and who knows what could happen. Publicly anyway, he seems to believe that the Flames still have a shot at the post-season. Is it too much to hope that his players share the same obstinate view? This is a team that just got shut out 3-0 by the LA Kings – one of the teams they were fighting for their lives with – and looked pretty damn uninspiring doing it. Is there enough desire left in the dressing room to at least make the last few games of the season interesting? Even though the Flames are not yet mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, it would truly take a miracle for them to get in – a miracle that would have to start tonight with a win over the visiting Colorado Avalanche .
On the Line
This game really isn’t as important as it should have been, unless you still subscribe to the idea that the Flames still stand a chance of making it into the top 8. A win postpones the funeral, a loss may make it official.
It was a familiar story to start the first, with Colorado coming out of the gate stronger, outworking the Flames, and generally controlling the play. Surprisingly though, the first goal would come from none other than Jay Bouwmeester, rediscovering his offensive touch at the perfect time. Unfortunately, the goaltender he deftly deposited the puck behind was Miikka Kiprusoff, and the net belonged to the Flames. Six minutes in and our heroes found themselves being out-shot 7-2 and down 1-0 courtesy of an own goal. They tried to push back and actually generated a few good chances, prompting the crowd to attempt a few half-hearted “Go Flames Go” chants. Cammalleri had a glorious opportunity to tie it up but couldn’t find the handle on it, and whatever else the Flames forwards managed to direct towards the Colorado net was turned aside by Semyon Varlamov. The tide turned dramatically when Mark Giordano took a delayed tripping penalty trying to stop the Avalanche attack from entering the offensive zone and the Avs got the extra attacker out before the Flames could get the whistle. A long wrist shot from Erik Johnson was deflected past Kiprusoff by David Jones and just like that it was a 2-0 game. The Flames did begin to look better during the second half of the period, and actually looked very dangerous during a late flurry of chances but couldn’t convert on any of them. The period ended with Calgary holding a 12-10 advantage in shots on goal but still trailing 2-0 on the scoreboard.
The Flames second period woes have been well documented this season, and if they wanted to have any hope of winning this game they would have to come out hard. They did manage to keep the play in the Colorado end for a few minutes but didn’t generate much in the way of quality opportunities. Mark Giordano gave his team a golden opportunity to climb back into the game, atoning for his first period penalty by drawing a hooking call on Matt Hunwick. The Flames got a couple of golden opportunities, including a close-in chance for Curtis Glencross that Varlamov somehow managed to keep out of the net. The Flames began to push, putting pressure on the Avs and looking like they might make a game out of it. Of course, that meant it was prime time for Colorado to score again, and they did – with Milan Hejduk potting his first in 23 games on a long shot that somehow eluded Kiprusoff. Midway through the period and this one was looking like it was already over, with the Flames trailing 3-0 despite a dramatic 22-13 edge in shots. To their credit, the Flames kept pushing even though the Avs seemed content to burn the clock down as much as possible. Blake Comeau and Tom Kostopoulos turned in a few very strong shifts, getting the Avs scrambling but not being able to find the back of the net. With just over 4 minutes remaining the Flames would get another powerplay when Varlamov got tagged with a delay of game penalty, but the man advantage got them nothing and they ended up finishing the period still down by 3.
With 20 minutes left to turn their fortunes around, the Flames had a steep hill to climb – especially considering they have won only three games this season when trailing after two periods. The teams traded shots – and chances – through the first five minutes, with the Flames having the better ones. Kiprusoff did have to be sharp when Peter Mueller and Cody Macleod broke in on a 2-on-1, but he managed to get his shoulder on the puck and keep it out of the net. The Flames continued to press, giving the crowd a moment of excitement with Blair Jones appeared to score but pinged the puck off the post instead. The Flames’ last gasp came with less than two minutes left when Ryan O’Reilly was sent off for interference and Miikka Kiprusoff went to the bench for the extra attacker, and were at least able to keep the Saddledome crowd from going home empty handed. Olli Jokinen found Iginla who found the back of the net for the 32nd time this season, but it was a short-lived consolation. Seconds later the Avs’ Peter Mueller drove home an empty net marker to restore the 3 goal Colorado lead and post the 4-1 win.
1. Semyon Varlamov: Was very solid all night in the Colorado cage, turning aside everything the Flames threw his way in a manner that must have been demoralizing for a group of Calgary forwards that seems to have completely forgotten how to score.
2. Gabriel Landeskog: Two assists and a +3 rating in another strong performance. His play this season has to have him pegged as a Calder favourite.
3. Erik Johnson: Was solid on the back end and put up a pair of assists.
During the second period with the Flames trying desperately to get back in the game, Semyon Varlamov made several brilliant saves to preserve the lead. His stop on Tom Kostopoulos with about a minute left was stone cold robbery.
It is very telling that this piece is often the hardest part of these write-ups. The return of Cory Sarich provided a bit of grit on the back end but there weren’t really any notable hits in this one as the Avs drew the Flames into move of a wide-open, skating style of game. Put team toughness high on the list of things that will need to be addressed by the Flames this summer.
Jay Bouwmeester. The team never recovered from his brain fart early in the first period that ended up in the back of his own net and set the tone for another Flames loss.
I’m going to give this one to the well-endowed blonde girl on the Big Country Ice Crew. When that ice needs to be shoveled, she is there. Every time, without fail. She does her job and does it well, and she is very entertaining. (for me anyway) Blonde chick, this one’s for you!
Odds and Ends
It was Joe Sacco’s first game behind the Colorado bench after signing his new contract extension. Although described as a “blue collar coach” who isn’t exactly beloved in the dressing room, Sacco has been able to get a lot out of his team and deserves a lot of credit for getting them as close as they are to the playoffs. It makes one wonder what will happen in the Flames camp, with Brian Sutter’s contract coming up for renewal and no word of an extension yet ……..Leave it to the Flames to be slump busters. If a player or a team in this league is struggling, playing the Flames seems to be the perfect tonic. This one was over in the second period when Milan Hejduk scored his first goal in 23 games and buried the Flames……..it is frustrating that even when this team puts in the effort, they simply are not good enough to win. The team actually showed up tonight, tried hard, got shots, generated chances, and just couldn’t get it done. This one was easier to take than the lacklustre showing against LA, but every bit as heartbreaking. No, they aren’t mathematically eliminated yet, but realistically there is nothing left now but to play out the string and book the tee times.
The Flames travel to Vancouver for a date with the Canucks and a chance to salvage some pride. Puck drop is 8pm mountain.
Tanguay – Cammalleri – Iginla
Glencross – Jokinen – Moss
Stempniak – Stajan – Comeau
Kostopolous – Jones – Jackman
Butler – Bouwmeester
Giordano – Hannan
Babchuk – Sarich