The Calgary Flames aren’t going to make the playoffs. We know this. You know this. They know this. The St. Louis Blues are a team that has dreams of the Stanley Cup, and they’re headed for the playoffs. Tonight’s game at the Saddledome was a meeting between the third-best and third-worst teams in the National Hockey League’s overall standings.
But the Flames pumped the brakes on the whole “tanking” talk for one night and played like a team that deserved to be higher in the standings. They were crisp, opportunistic and then defended fairly well en route to a 7-4 victory tonight that featured multi-point performances from arguably the team’s five most important players.
The opening period was equal parts dull, weird and fascinating. The first several minutes were slow. There were barely any shots. Then, suddenly, the floodgates opened with strange, strange goals. Joe Colborne opened the scoring on a tip-in-dump from Lance Bouma; the puck bounced off the corner boards right into the slot, where Colborne tapped it into the wide-open net (as Jake Allen went behind the net to play the puck). That lead lasted nine seconds, as Scott Upshall collected the puck after a Blues dump-in and beat Joni Ortio with a quick shot just inside the far post to make it 1-1. The Blues pulled ahead on another strange one: Troy Brouwer and Paul Stastny went in on a two-on-one, Ortio made the initial save but it glanced off the referee’s foot and went right back to Stastny, who chipped it past Ortio to make it 2-1. That lead lasted for awhile, but with Garnet Hathaway in the penalty box Mikael Backlund sprung Michael Frolik on a breakaway and he went top-shelf to tie it up. The Flames led in shots (9-8) and shot attempts (18-12).
The Blues dominated the second period in the early-going, but the Flames again battled back. After a nice shift by the Agostino-Backlund-Frolik line generated a couple nice chances, some head’s up play by Deryk Engelland led to a turnover. Engelland stepped into a Blues player attempting to exit, dislodging the puck and allowing Johnny Gaudreau to feed Sean Monahan for a nice wrister as they closed in on Allen to make it 3-2.
Guy in the crowd wins a car because CAL scores on pp, sweats it out as STL challenges. But good goal, and good giveaway.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) March 15, 2016
With Robby Fabbri in the box for hooking, Colborne had a big screen on Jake Allen, allowing Mark Giordano to beat him with a point shot to make it 4-2. (The goal was reviewed and it was decided that Colborne didn’t interfere with Allen.) That was the end of Allen’s night, and in came former Oiler goalie Anders Nilsson. Nilsson was in net for just shy of three minutes before Gaudreau sprang Monahan for a breakaway and a five-hole goal to make it 5-2. The Flames kept buzzing for the rest of the period. Responding to a hit in the first period that was called interference on Hathaway, Ryan Reaves clipped him high on an airborne puck. That and a play around Ortio that saw David Backes lay on top of Ortio led to a big scrum at the end of the period. Shots were 14-9 Flames, but the Blues had a slight attempt lead of 22-21.
St. Louis clawed back a bit early in the third. The Flames generated very little on their period-opening power-play, but the Blues scored nine seconds into a Giordano minor to make it 5-3 as Kevin Shattenkirk beat a sprawling Ortio. Brouwer sprang Stastny at the Flames blueline, and he beat Ortio five-hole to make it 5-4. The Flames took a too-many-men penalty, but it was Michael Frolik who scored another break-away shorthanded goal, as Giordano sprang him to make it 6-4. Frolik added an empty-netter (off a feed from Monahan, who also had a pair of goals at that point) to make it 7-4. Shots were 18-9 Blues and attempts were 21-18 Blues – so St. Louis was much more effective in the third of getting pucks on net, but to no avail.
WHY THE FLAMES WON
To be blunt? They were all over the Blues for the first 40 minutes and pounced on every chance they could. They chased a really good young netminder in Jake Allen and though they let the Blues get back into it, they bent but didn’t break and they managed to respond.
Oh, and the special teams battle? The Flames had three power-play and shorthanded goals, while the Blues had just one. If you win the special teams battle, you win the game.
Let’s go with Michael Frolik, who had the rare feat of scoring a hat-trick that involved two short-handed goals and an empty-netter, and was technically on three different netminders (Allen, Nilsson and nobody).
And to be honest, few Flames were bad tonight. The best were the team’s usual suspects: Gaudreau, Monahan, Hamilton and Giordano, all with multi-point nights.
Also, holy crap, Nakladal was in the black possession-wise despite getting BURIED in terms of zone starts. That’s impressive.
THE RACE TO THE BOTTOM
The Flames are now firmly nestled in the 23rd-to-28th clump of mediocrity. But they can hold their heads high knowing they delayed their official mathematical elimination slightly and put up a good effort against a pretty good hockey club.
The Flames are back in action on Wednesday night for a crucially important TANK BATTLE against the similarly-not-great Winnipeg Jets.