When all eyes were on the final few weeks of the season a month and a half ago the fact that the Flames had to play the Kings three times in their final 16 games loomed large. So to did the final six games taking place in or against the three California teams. For a Flames club hoping to be in the mix though, as a fan you just had to be excited that they had a chance, they’d be in that last ditch push to the wire; the city would be electric.
Nobody saw a ten game win streak, or 20 games that featured a 16-3-1 record making these games still important of course, but so much less crucial than they would have been had the team moved along at a similar .550 pace that had them through their first 55 games of the season.
However you also want to see that killer instinct, to step on the throats of the chasing team. A L.A. win and it’s a 7 point gap, but instead the Flames beat the Kings 5-2 on the backs of Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, stretching their playoff lead to 11 points, and their magic number stripped down to 6.
You wouldn’t know the upstart from the battle tested from the drop of the puck in this one as the Flames came out and territorially dominated the Kings through the game’s first five minutes. The Fab 5 (3M line plus the top defense pairing) had not one but two dominant shifts in the Kings zone, the Kings getting their only traction when the Calgary third line sans-Bennett were on the ice. The Flames get the lead when Johnny Gaudreau hits the line and dishes to Sean Monahan who waits, waits, waits and then rips one over Quick’s shoulder to make it 1-0 Flames. The Flames are back a few minutes later when Michael Stone keeps the puck in at the line, then takes a pass and wires one past Quick to make it 2-0. Sutter pulls Quick at that moment and replaces him with Ben Bishop, I’d say more on the team not showing up then the lack of play by Quick. The game does settle down for the Kings and they get a late one when the third line gets hemmed in and Iginla and Kopitar combine with Kopitar scoring to make it 2-1.
The late first period goal and the knowledge of a four on four start to the second must have had the Kings feeling pretty confident coming into the second period, eying a chance to pounce on fresh ice. Instead it’s the Flames that pounce and pounce hard, scoring two quick goals making the score 4-1 Calgary. First a Mark Giordano point shot bounces off of Alex Martinez and past Bishop to make it 3-1, and then Johnny Gaudreau gets sprung on a breakaway from Sean Monahan and goes upstairs for once beating Ben Bishop to make it 4-1. The Kings get one back quickly when Dowd comes out of the penalty box and tips one from a ways out to make it 4-2. From there the Kings are the better team including two powerplay chances, but the Flames hang tough and take their lead to the third period.
The Flames play a masterful third period, a really good sign in that they were a team that had a lead against a desperate team, but weren’t the least bit jumpy or out of position. Pucks deep, a solid backcheck with good gap control, and very few turnovers as they just steered the Kings towards the end of the night with very little by way of sustained pressure from the visitors testing their resolve. The Kings pull the goalie with just under three minutes to go but can’t get a whole lot going in the Calgary zone. Finally Kris Versteeg hits the empty net when Curtis Lazar strips the puck from Anzi Kopitar in the neutral zone; 5-2 final for the Flames.
1st Period – Well played period by both clubs with the Flames very good in the first 15, and the Kings much better in the final 5 minutes. The shot attempts reflected that with a 15-12 edge for the Flames, scoring chances were 8-7 Calgary.
2nd Period – Push back period for the Kings, especially after the Flames piled on early in the middle 20. They end up 14-8 in shot attempts and have the scoring chances 7-3.
3rd Period – Calgary winds it down with poise edging the Kings 11-10 in shot attempts, and enjoying a 6-3 edge in scoring chances. Game totals were 36-34 LA in shot attempts, and 17-17 in scoring chances.
Players – Really amazing to watch this fab 5 go to work every night. Tonight the 3M line was 65% in play driving, the top defense pairing 55%. With those 5 dominating in a tight corsi game you know the pay back is coming and that came on the bottom two lines with Matt Stajan and Lance Bouma leading the way, both being sub 40%
1. Johnny Gaudreau: Goal and two assists to match his linemate Sean Monahan. Gaudreau gets the top star nod because of his jump, a very confident player and a very good sign for the Flames.
2. Sean Monahan : Wires one over Quick’s glove, and sets up Gaudreau for a breakaway goal, plus an additional assist to pace the club.
3. Mark Giordano : The captain is on quite a roll these days. Scores a goal, is +2, has 3 hits, 3 blocked shots and leads all skaters with 22.5 minutes. His contract sure isn’t hurting in year one!
Sean Monahan already had a goal in the first period, but was foiled on an even better chance when he was set up by Gaudreau for a one timer in the slot, with Quick getting the legs closed to block the blast.
The King’s big boys. Quick is pulled, Carter, Toffoli and Doughty are all -2, the Flames beat the Kings on the strength of the Flames best clearing being better than the King’s best.
Tough call, as everyone showed up. I like Brian Elliot’s night though he only faced 21 shots, but I’m going with Mikael Backlund as he had a huge assignment in taking on the King’s best in a must win game from their side. Kopitar scored a goal but Backlund was no where near the ice at that time.
Odds and Ends
Calgary fans have waited patiently for weeks for their first viewing of young trade line acquiree Curtis Lazar, but I’m guessing these weren’t the circumstances that they had hoped to see surrounding his debut. Micheal Ferland has reportedly comedown with mumps over the last 48 hours sending him out of the lineup and the lines into a bit of a blender. Lazar enters, which is expected, but he slots on to the fourth line and not into Ferland’s spot. Instead he lines up with Sam Bennett and Lance Bouma, with Alex Chiasson getting promoted to the Monahan line. No changes to the defense pairings or starter Brian Elliott. … Sam Bennett’s corsi numbers were considerably better after getting “demoted” the other night for Matt Stajan, as he easily topped his usual third line buddies. Tonight, both those lines suffered so no clear separation, though Matt Stajan was at the bottom of the pile. … Sure looked like an ugly elbow from Matthew Tkachuk on Drew Doughty in the first period. The two had been in a battle all shift, Tkachuk taking a punch on a board battle seconds earlier before Tkachuk drills him in the mush and sends him to the ice. The league may take a look at that one. … Brian Elliot’s win gives him 11 in a row and a 12-0-1 record in his last 13 which includes an un-Godly .947 save percentage. The 11 in a row ties Mike Vernon’s record from 1989, giving Elliott a chance to beat it on Tuesday in Washington. Easy assignment, just reign in the President Trophy leading Capitals. The Flames may be very happy at contract time that Elliott had such a rough October. Remember that knuckle puck from center ice in Vancouver? … Thought Curtis Lazar had some jam tonight in limited ice time. He had to be happy to put on the classic red jerseys for his first game in Calgary silks, and showed some energy throwing the body around and getting in on the forecheck. He picked up an assist on Versteeg’s empty net goal to boot. Hopefully he and Bennett can create some chemistry, transforming the fourth line in the to the team’s third. … This next part is almost hard to digest. The Flames are now 14 games over .500, with 86 points in 72 games. They have an 11 point lead over the L.A. Kings, and have moved back into the 3rd spot in the Pacific, bouncing the Oilers back to the top wild card spot. If the Flames win 6 of their final 10 games it doesn’t matter what any other team does, their in. The Flames are on the cusp of moving in to the top 10 in NHL standings. By percentages the Flames are now 98.9% likely to make the playoffs, as the Kings need a 9-2-0 run to have a 68% chance of making it. If the Flames go 1-8-1 they’d still have a 54% chance of making the playoffs. … So who do you want Flames fans? San Jose, Anaheim or Edmonton?
Flames hit the road for a three game set that beings in Washington against the Capitals on Tuesday night. Game time 5.00pm on Sportsnet West.
Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik
Gaudreau – Monahan – Chiasson
Versteeg – Stajan – Brouwer
Bouma – Bennett – Lazar
Giordano – Hamilton
Brodie – Stone
Bartkowski – Engelland