Last season, the Los Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames ended up intwined in a tight battle for the final playoff spot in the Pacific Division. The Flames won four of five meetings, including the fifth and final that saw them both clinch that fabled playoff spot, and end the defending Stanley Cup Champions’ season early.
There is no such battle this go around. The Kings are almost certainly going to make the playoffs this year; they’re the only Pacific team in the top half of the NHL standings. And indeed, they looked it, as try as hard as the Flames did, quick goals and Quick goaltending left them closing out 2015 with a 4-1 loss.
Things started off really, really well when Dougie Hamilton sprung Sam Bennett for a breakaway just 33 seconds in, but Jonathan Quick stayed with him and made sure there was no early goal to be had. The Kings took over thereafter, and 11:04 into the opening frame they made it a 1-0 game thanks to a perfectly screened Marian Gaborik shot.
Back-to-back offensive zone penalties by Milan Lucic and Jordan Nolan gave the Flames a chance to tie it on the power play, but even though they had a couple of good looks, they were unable to score, and left the first down a goal.
So if there’s any time you can point at as to when the Flames lost, it was the start of the second. Two goals within the first three minutes of the period gave the Kings a 3-0 lead, and for a team that had just been shutout the game before, things were starting to look insurmountable. A long, long cycle in the Flames’ end left the home side exhausted, and with both Anze Kopitar and Milan Lucic standing on the doorstep, Lucic was able to bang it home. A minute and 20 seconds later, Andy Andreoff was left all alone in front of the Flames’ net with Sean Monahan and Dougie Hamilton behind it and Kris Russell off to the side, and suddenly, it was 3-0 Kings.
Brandon Bollig fought Lucic off the ensuing faceoff, but then the Flames gave the puck away to Kopitar and Tyler Toffoli hitting the goalpost was the only thing that prevented it from becoming a 4-0 game. Not even the Kings’ third offensive zone penalty – Nick Shore tripping Hamilton – could get the Flames on the board, even though Sam Bennett (who is on the power play now!) had a golden chance at the power play’s end. Even a wide open net left there for T.J. Brodie didn’t result in a goal, because just Lucic got in the way to keep it out.
Down 3-0 to start the third, the Flames turned it on. An early goal gave them hope, as 3:36 into the final period, Joe Colborne retrieved the puck from behind the net, Micheal Ferland fought off Brayden McNabb, and Mark Giordano scored with a shot from the point that went in off Drew Doughty, snapping the Flames’ shutout streak at 105:36.
Try as the Flames did for the rest of the game, though – and they really, really tried, outshooting the Kings 10-3 – that was all they were able to manage. Monahan nearly scored seconds after Giordano’s goal. Mikael Backlund found Ferland in the slot. Hamilton made a beautiful move to get the puck in close. But Quick stopped all of them, leaving the Flames increasingly desperate. Even a fourth power play – courtesy of a Doughty delay of game – couldn’t beat him, with Colborne hitting the post, and Dennis Wideman staying true to his last name and shooting the puck wide.
Karri Ramo was pulled with just over three minutes to go, and Sam Bennett tripped Dustin Brown about half a minute later, leaving the Flames to close out the game five-on-five with an empty net. Tanner Pearson was able to get the insurance goal in the game’s final minute, though, and that was that as the Flames lost to the Kings, 4-1.
Why the Flames lost
The Kings dominated to start the second, leaving the Flames scrambling as what had been a manageable 1-0 deficit suddenly become a 3-0 one. That, or the fact the Flames had four power play opportunities and couldn’t score on any of them, even though they did have some close looks. That, or the fact that Quick stood on his head, particularly when the Flames were pressing the most, and the only goal that got past him was one deflected in by one of this own guys.
Well, it was probably all three of those things. Going to sleep for a few minutes against a team as good as the Kings is going to cost you, and it was too little, too late for when the Flames looked ready to actually compete.
Micheal Ferland fighting off Brayden McNabb to get the primary assist on Giordano’s goal was awesome, and really helped to highlight just how far he’s coming along. He also had that really good chance on Quick from the slot, and a couple of solid hits because, well, he’s Micheal Ferland. Micheal Ferland, top six forward that is, because that’s the role he played tonight – and he excelled.
Honourable mentions to Sam Bennett and Mikael Backlund for playing with jump all night long, and T.J. Brodie for continuing to be an impressive skating force from the backend.
The Flames are off to Denver for a day as on Saturday, January 2, 2016 (Happy New Year!) they take on the Colorado Avalanche. Late Hockey Night in Canada games means an 8 p.m. MT puck drop, but hopefully the Flames will be a little more awake throughout that game.
Look out for former bestest friend ever Jarome Iginla, who currently sits at 599 career goals and doesn’t play again until… Saturday, January 2, 2016. It would be extremely poetic if Iggy hit #600 against the team he spent the majority of his career with, so it’ll probably happen, so get ready.