(photo courtesy Baron1981)
The Calgary Flames opened their latest road trip – this one a four-game jaunt through the American midwest – on Sunday evening in Chicago against the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Traditionally a tough place to play, as the Flames had lost 13 consecutive visits to the United Center, the Flames attempted to mix up their energy by starting a brand-new goalie against the champs.
Reto Berra, formerly of Swiss League A and more recently of the Abbotsford Heat of the American League, made his Flames and NHL debut on Sunday evening. He replaced Joey “MacBackup” MacDonald, who cleared waivers and was assigned to the Heat on Sunday afternoon. Would Berra’s first outing be a sparkling affair like Freddie Brathwaite’s? Or a disappointment, like many others?
And more importantly, would the Flames respond after an uneven effort against the Red Wings and two straight home losses?
The first period wasn’t full of huge scoring chances, but it involved a lengthy feeling-out process – as both the Flames and their opponents appeared curious as to what Reto Berra would do in his debut. The Flames did a solid job at largely keeping the Hawks to the perimeter – even on a power-play – while the hometown squad seemed to content to shoot from everywhere. Berra proved to be perfectly solid in net, making 18 saves in the opening frame. The Hawks led Calgary in shots (18-11) and Corsi events (25-14). Scoring chances (6-6) and goals (zero) were even, while the Flames had a slight 15-11 edge at the face-off dot.
After probing a bit in the first period to see how Berra would react, the Hawks went on the attack a bit more in the second period. The Flames got hemmed in their zone quite a bit – both because Chicago was pressing and because they showed an occasional inability to clear the puck – but didn’t give up too many huge scoring chances. And for his part, Berra remained sharp. T.J. Galiardi earned a penalty shot opportunity when Marian Hossa hooked him on a breakaway, but Galiardi missed the net entirely trying to beat Corey Crawford stick-side. Soon after, the Blackhawks broke the scoreless deadlock. After taking over the offensive zone, the Hawks worked the cycle a bit and Patrick Kane shot on the net while in motion – which aided Patrick Shaw and Chris Butler in obscuring Berra’s view) – and the puck went through the Flames goaltender to make it 1-0 (on Chicago’s 23rd shot).
However, the lead didn’t last long, as the Flames scored less than a minute later, with Joe Colborne teeing up a point shot for Dennis Wideman. The shot was neatly tipped by Mike Cammalleri and beat Crawford to tie the game at one apiece. The Hawks carried the play until Calgary scored, and then the flow of play was about even. Chicago led the period in shots (12-10), Corsi events (32-16), scoring chances (8-6) and face-off wins (16-6), but the score was even, with each time scoring once.
The game remained more or less even, with Chicago getting more shots from the perimeter but the Flames pressing. Curtis Glencross put the Flames ahead with a gorgeous shot on the rush that beat Crawford glove-side (bonus marks to Chris Butler for the outlet pass that created the scoring chance). The game remained even in terms of flow-of-play until the Flames took a pair of penalties that threatened their tenuous lead.
Chris Butler got nabbed for holding up Jonathan Toews in the offensive zone, then Matt Stajan got a delay-of-game call for closing his hand on the puck. The Flames were excellent on the five-on-three, including two beautiful saves by Berra – a pad stop on Patrick Sharp that showcased his lateral movement and a glove save on Marian Hossa. Finally, with just a few seconds left on the two-man advantage, Marian Hossa one-timed a shot past Berra to tie the game at 2-2. (It was Chicago’s 42nd shot on goal.) Chicago out-shot Calgary 14-8, out-Corisied them 28-12, out-chanced them 4-2 and dominated the face-off circle 17-8. But the teams each scored once, which forced overtime.
And in overtime, the Flames pressured the Blackhawks and capitalized. Just 90 seconds into the extra frame, the Flames passed the puck through the zone and fed Kris Russell at the point. Russell’s wristed went crossbar-and-in and the Flames picked up their first win in Chicago since 2008. Chicago won the only face-off of overtime, but Russell’s goal was the only shot (or puck at the net) in overtime.
WHY THE FLAMES WON
Reto Berra was good when he had to be – and occasionally excellent – and seemed to give the Flames confidence in all three zones. Moreover, the team didn’t seem to fear the Blackhawks, despite their horrid record against them in recent years, and kept coming at Chicago despite getting out-chanced and out-shot throughout. It was a character win for the Calgary Flames and gets them back to .500.
FLAME OF THE GAME
Reto Berra made 42 saves in his National Hockey League debut. It’s not quite Fred Brathwaite’s shutout debut, but it was an excellent start to his Flames tenure.
Honourable mentions to Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman, who each played over 25 minutes and were plus-two.
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SUM IT UP
The Calgary Flames have finally won a game in Chicago, improving their record to 6-6-2. The Hawks fall to 9-2-4. For reference, the Flames have twice as many wins as the Edmonton Oilers and three times as many regulation or overtime wins. They’re back in action on Tuesday night with a date in St. Paul against the Minnesota Wild. The puck drops at 6pm MT from Xcel Energy Center and the game can be caught on Sportsnet TV, Sportsnet radio and all over the web via your pals at FlamesNation.