In the summer I felt a good campaign for the Calgary Flames would end with a battle for a playoff spot, a 7-9 finish in the West and a photo finish. Everything else would be gravy.
As much as it hurts tonight they had some gravy, a pretty good serving.
The Flames had to survive a tough start, with an inexplicable short side goal minutes in from Brian Elliott, but they settled in and gave it all they had in a 3-1 empty net goal finish as the Ducks completed a very surprising sweep in the first round of the playoffs.
The Flames were even up in the first game, and likely the better team in the final three, but just couldn’t find that save, that bounce, or that finish to find the win column.
It hurts today, but I honestly think bright things are coming for this hockey club.
Pretty surprising start. With pride and professional athletes I didn’t expect the Flames to come out as flat as a pancake, nor did I expect Brian Elliott to give a goal away in the game’s first few minutes, but that’s exactly what happened. On his third shot, an on ice wrister from almost the same place along the boards as the game two over time winner was put on net by Patrick Eaves, the puck sliding under Elliott’s pad and into the net; just like that it’s 1-0. Glen Gulutzan had seen enough so with that Elliott gets the hook for Chad Johnson. Johnson doesn’t fare much better when a Duck’s rush results in a loose puck in the slot and a bouncing puck going over Sam Bennett’s stick, leaving game two fourth line hero Nate Johnson a tap in and it’s 2-0 Anaheim on 5 shots. The Flames do stabilize, and start pushing the play, out shooting the Ducks in the period 12-9 but even a late Calgary powerplay fails to find that blue chip chance to get back into the game. Ducks lead 2-1 after one.
Fairly flat start to the second for the Flames as they whack the puck around the ice, giving up possession at the drop of a hat. The Ducks get a great chance when Corey Perry is allowed to walk the puck in off the side boards and get a chance, but Johnson gets a pad on his far post stuff attempt and Sam Bennett arrives to take away the rebound. The Flames start to get their feet moving again and almost get on the board when Brodie finds Curtis Lazar in front of the net but he steers it wide. The Flames starting to feel it put together best set of shifts of the game including a great chance by Mikael Backlund but he’s stoned by John Gibson with a puck off the shoulder. A few minutes later the Flames get another powerplay chance, and this time don’t disappoint as Kris Versteeg has a pass bounce in the air towards the slot with Sean Monahan batting it into the net, his fourth goal in four games in the series; lead cut in half 2-1 Anaheim. The Flames lose the momentum very quickly as Mark Giordano gets tagged for holding on Patrick Eaves and the Ducks go to the powerplay. The Flames kill that off, but then Derryk Engelland loses his stick causing chaos and an eventual Alex Chiasson penalty just as the other call expired. Calgary kills off the first half of it sending the game to the third 2-1 Anaheim.
The Flames kill the last half of Chiasson’s penalty but then the game sort of settles into a back and forth minor hockey league game where the puck is just smacked back and forth without a whole lot going on, killing valuable time for the Flames. With about 11 minutes to play the Flames being their push with some good chances through traffic that Gibson is able to steer away or have it hit him when he doesn’t see it. The Ducks have a broken stick leading to a spurt of chances with them floundering in their own zone and in trouble but they escape. The game settles into a series of Duck icing calls but the Flames just can’t find that equalizer before Ryan Getzlaf hits the open net with about 7 seconds to go. Game over, season over. Out.
1st Period – Shot attempts were 16-14 Anaheim five on five, 17-16 Calgary overall. Scoring chances were 8-5 Anaheim in the first period, the Flames not getting a whole lot done.
2nd Period – Shot attempts are 15-10 Calgary five on five in the second period, scoring chances 11-6 for the Flames as they crawl off the matt.
3rd Period – The third has the Flames with a 16-10 edge, scoring chances 7-6 for the Ducks.
Players – Personally I like the fact that the big 5 each had their best games of the playoffs tonight in a losing effort as Michael Frolik finished over 70%, and the other four skaters were all in the 60s, a good finish to a rough series for the group. Curtis Lazar, Sean Monahan, TJ Brodie and Michael Stone were all in the 50s as well. At the bottom of the heap was the third pairing who finished in the 20s, another game where they were simply owned with about 10 minutes of ice time.
1. John Gibson: Could almost give him all three stars as he was the difference in turning aside 35 of 37 Calgary shots in a game that could have and possible should have gone the other way.
2. Sean Monahan : Scores a powerplay goal in four straight games in a short series. The assistant captain certainly quieted any naysayers about his playoff grit from two years ago.
3. Ryan Getzlaf : Former Hitmen hits the empty net for his club to collect the win, plays an unbelievable 25 minutes, unheard of for a forward.
The Flames got the chance they needed with about ten minutes to play; a three on two becomes a four on three with the puck into the slot for Dougie Hamilton, his wrister rips into the armpit of John Gibson but doesn’t go. At that point you had that feeling that it wouldn’t happen. If the Flames had come back Chad Johnson would have had the call by stopping Corey Perry twice with the team needing the save.
Has to be Brian Elliot doesn’t it? Looking to redeem himself for back to back rough games in the series and he gives up a terrible goal on his third shot just five minutes into the game. The team was crushed from the mistake, and they took almost 20 minutes to recover. Goalie has to be better than that.
I think Chad Johnson deserves the nod for keeping his team in it despite coming off the bench cold, and not having played a whole lot in the last 30 days. It was gut check time and he showed up.
Odds and Ends
Some controversy on changes made and changes not made for the Flames going into tonight’s game. Brian Elliott is back in the cage despite being complicit in the last two losses, though you really can’t fault the decision as the other two options are a goaltender that has played 5 minutes in the last 30 days, and the other has one career NHL start in a meaningless game. The other changes would wrinkle some brows however as Matt Stajan and Lance Bouma both come out for the younger, speedier Curtis Lazar and Freddie Hamilton. … Through three games the issues with Calgary’s game have certainly not been what I expected. My guess coming in was the Monahan line would struggle against Ryan Kesler’s line but they dominated. I was worried about their powerplay coming into the series as it had gone flat. My non worries were around goaltending and Brian Elliott and the 3M line in their battle against Ryan Getzlaf, I couldn’t have been more wrong on all fronts. … I try really hard not to be an over the top reactionary person, but with the muffin of a first goal tonight, and coming off rough starts in game two and game three, I just can’t fathom a way that Brian Elliott comes back next season, which is the last thing I would have predicted given how the regular season ended for the Flames stopper. I just don’t see how the Flames can sell that, even if they wanted to. Clearly the third round pick the Flames have to give up is the cincher in the final decision, I think we see a brand new pairing next season again. I’d say hopefully they get it right this time, but that seems somewhat unfair given how sound the moves were last summer. Worked to get them into the playoffs, but not the answer overall. If I thought Chad Johnson could be the man with Jon Gillies I’d be all over it, but I don’t think he’s ready for that kind of role so they have a decision to make. Get a starter and bring back Johnson, or go with Gillies as the backup. … So tired of this Brad Treliving contract stuff. I’m annoyed that Elliot Friedman keeps bringing it up but I’m also annoyed that the Flames have left this hanging out there and creating a nuisance where they simply don’t need one. Silly. … Before the series I wrote an article about the Flames ice time deployment and how they needed to push some minutes up the roster in order to get through the first round. They didn’t get through of course, but give Glen Gulutzan a pile of credit for doing just that. Matt Bartkowski had only ten minutes tonight, Lazar and Freddie Hamilton only seven. Good bench management. … Another micro battle went the Flames way tonight as for the second straight game the club’s centers got the job done in the face off circle winning 58% of the draws. That’s a huge accomplishment against a tough trio of Duck pivot men, and a huge building block for next season. Mikael Backlund was 67% and Sean Monahan was 60% dominating Ryan Kesler who finished at an amazing 17%. … Have to love Kris Verteeg’s interview post game. Talked about the sweeps in his career for and against and offered that this one made little sense, then saluted the coaching staff and the young player saying there was a good serving of blue skies ahead for the organization. They should really bring this guy back if he doesn’t push the salary angle too hard.
Preseason games in the fall sadly. Should have been another curse attacker in Anaheim on Friday night but it wasn’t meant to be.
Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik
Gaudreau – Monahan – Ferland
Versteeg – Bennett – Chiasson
F. Hamilton – Lazar – Brouwer
Giordano – Hamilton
Brodie – Stone
Bartkowski – Engelland