Today’s game between the Calgary Flames and the Pittsburgh Penguins had all the excuses for the Flames to lose built into it. It was a road game, an afternoon game, the last game of a long road trip, and the team was facing the stacked Penguins squad that was desperate for points in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
But after a shaky first period, the Flames were full marks as they skated away and headed home with a well-earned 4-2 victory over the Penguins at Consol Energy Center this afternoon.
The first period was odd, in that both teams had weird early goals and then seemed to fall into a staring contest of sorts. Patrik Hornqvist got credit for a goal that went off the back-boards, off Ortio’s pad, off Monahan’s stick, and in off Ortio’s back foot…on the game’s first shot. Joe Colborne replied shortly thereafter, with a bang-bang play from Sam Bennett that went in off his skate. No distinct kicking motion, though, so it counted to tie the game up. Shots were 8-6 for the Flames, but Pittsburgh had a slim 18-16 shot attempt lead.
Astonishingly, the Flames pulled away in the second. Five minutes in, Sidney Crosby was alone out in front and tipped a Hornqvist slap-pass past Ortio to give Pittsburgh the lead. However, the Flames responded back quickly. On a nice rush play from Josh Jooris and Mikael Backlund, Mark Giordano pinched in and beat Marc-Andre Fleury with a nice individual effort to make it 2-1. And while the Flames failed to cash in on an extended four-minute power-play on the high-sticking penalty that knocked Jakub Nakladal from the game, Backlund scored after that penalty expired; Dougie Hamilton’s hard pass to the slot was deflected off Backlund’s stick in a nice set play to give Calgary a slim 3-2 lead. Shots were 14-8 for the Flames and attempts were 22-14 for the visitors as well.
Pittsburgh suddenly realized that they were down a goal to the NHL’s 29th-best team after 40 minutes, and they came out skating in the third. They had a ton of puck possession and offensive zone time, but the Flames defended well and kept them largely to the outside. In fact, the Flames had the period’s only goal, as Lance Bouma scored off his own rebound after Fleury couldn’t gobble up a loose puck. The Penguins pulled their netminder for the better part of the last four minutes, but to no avail. Shots were 17-8 for the Penguins and attempts were 33-11 for the home side, but they couldn’t generate enough dangerous chances to get back into the game.
WHY THE FLAMES WON
Ultimately, they triumphed because they didn’t give the Penguins a lot of respect. They were hitting. They were fore-checking. They were crashing the net. And when they were stuck in their own end, they weren’t running around or admiring any nice passes; instead, they kept their sticks active and tried their best to contain and disrupt the Penguins attackers.
To be blunt? This is the type of “we don’t give a crap” Flames team that we had hoped to see post-trade deadline. If they come out like this, they’ll give most teams some headaches.
Mikael Backlund! He was north of 50% in Corsi For, he won more than half of his face-offs, he had the game-winning goal and an assist, and he was tied for the team lead with four shots on net.
And stick-taps to Joni Ortio, who got his first win since January 19, 2015 with a 29-save performance, and Garnet Hathaway, who was credited with six hits and was active on the fore-check all game.
THE RACE TO THE BOTTOM
With the victory, the Flames (at least temporarily) leap from 29th overall to 27th, surpassing Edmonton and Winnipeg. Minnesota beat Buffalo earlier today, so Calgary’s “tragic number” to be eliminated from post-season contention is now any combination of 10 Flames losses or Minnesota wins.
The Flames return home and are back in action on Monday night when they host the San Jose Sharks.