(Sergei Belski – USA Today Sports)
The Flames and Sharks went into the second period dead-locked at 2-2. From then on, the Calgary Flames stepped up and played a composed, mature final 40 minutes and skated to a 4-2 victory.
The game’s a milestone of many kinds. It’s just their fourth regulation win and their second win in seven games against the Pacific Division, but it’s also the seventh win in a row at the Saddledome for a team that’s starting to display some confidence and, dare I say, look a tiny bit formidable on home ice.
Man, the Flames got off to a great start. They scored first (and early), with Jiri Hudler grabbing a loose puck in neutral ice and leading the rush, feeding Markus Granlund for a nice wrister past Martin Jones to make it 1-0. Then? The Sharks started to stir. With the Flames having trouble clearing the zone in the first, they also had trouble clearing out the front of their net, and Chris Tierney knocked home a rebound that Karri Ramo couldn’t smother to tie it up. A few minutes later the Flames got a power-play on a Dainius Zubrus penalty, and Sean Monahan tipped home a Mark Giordano shot (on a nice set play where Sam Bennett was also stirring out front to confuse Martin Jones) to make it 2-1. However, the Flames took a penalty a few minutes later and it took nine seconds for Joe Thornton to tip a shot past Ramo to tie it up at 2-2. And that’s how it ended, with the Sharks carrying the balance of play in the opening frame. Shots were 14-9 Sharks and attempts were 26-17 Sharks.
The middle period was weird. Weird in the sense that the rhythm of the period seemed a bit off, and that Calgary played an astonishingly good 20 minutes of hockey. They retook the lead off a weird rush; Mikael Backlund had control of the puck, bobbled it and then regained control for a shot that seemed to catch Jones off-balance. Michael Frolik swooped in for the rebound for the go-ahead goal. Sean Monahan scored a goal a little while later off a really nice play in the high slot by Johnny Gaudreau, but it was called back on an off-side call after San Jose challenged. Either way, that was the end of the night for Martin Jones, who was replaced by Alex Stalock. But the Flames kept pouring it on, and after a really lengthy shift in the offensive zone that saw them get a lot of looks, Mikael Backlund scored on a wrister from the hash marks to make it 4-2. Shots were 16-10 Flames in the second, with shot attempts also going their way by a 28-17 margin.
There wasn’t a whole whack of chances in the final period, and the Flames did get hemmed into their own end too much, but they were good otherwise. In particular, there were a few sequences where the Flames hemmed San Jose in for awhile. The Flames took a couple of penalties late in the period, but their penalty kill was uncharacteristically good and killed them both – a late too many men penalty by the Sharks on a botched goalie pull for the extra attacker cut the last Sharks PP short. Shots were 9-8 Sharks and shot attempts were 19-11 Sharks, but a lot of those were on San Jose’s late power-plays.
WHY THE FLAMES WON
The Flames didn’t have a great first period. They kept letting San Jose back into it. They went to the room for first intermission and then came out and grabbed hold of the game. It was far from a complete or dominant final 40 minutes, but they didn’t get rattled, they executed when they needed to execute and they made the Sharks pay when the opportunity came their way.
And a big stick-tap has to go to their special teams: their power-play generated 12 shots and a bunch of near-misses, and their PK stepped up in the third and prevented the Sharks from gaining late momentum. They definitely want that first Sharks power-play goal back, but they’re probably quite happy the outcome of the game wasn’t really in question after the second period.
Mikael Backlund was a spark-plug all night long. He executed well, created chances and had a goal and an assist, in addition to winning most of his draws.
T.J. Brodie, Sam Bennett and Johnny Gaudreau were also notably good.
The Flames have improved to 11-14-2 and are back in action on Thursday night when they host Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres in the fourth game of their five-game home-stand.