On Sunday, the Calgary Inferno won the Clarkson Cup as CWHL champions. By all accounts it was a really entertaining game, and the Inferno gutted it out and came out on top. They were recognized prior to tonight’s game between the Calgary Flames and the Winnipeg Jets at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
The 60 minutes of hockey that followed weren’t nearly as important or entertaining as the Inferno’s victory on Sunday, but they were a step in the right direction. The Flames took advantage of an inferior opponent, got a lead and held on, as they won 4-1 over the Jets for their 30th victory of the 2015-16 season.
It was by no means a picture perfect game, but it was a step in the right direction.
The pace of play was rather even in the first, but the Winnipeg Jets played some horrendous defensive ice hockey. Joe Colborne scored early by chucking the puck on net from the side boards. Mikael Backlund was out front causing havoc, but the puck glanced in off Ondrej Pavelec’s stick to make it 1-0. Mid-way through the period the Colborne-Backlund-Frolik trio struck again, this time with Michael Frolik chipping in a puck that glanced off Backlund’s stick on a biffed slap-shot. Pavalec played the slapper and had no chance on Frolik’s chip shot, and that made it 2-0. Sean Monahan scored late in the period off a scrambly play in the slot to make it 3-0. The Flames didn’t dominate or anything, but they were all over their chances in the Jets end. Shots were 9-9 and shot attempts were 26-16 for Winnipeg.
The Flames sat back quite a bit in the second period – score effects gonna score effect – and the Jets were content to whirl around with the puck. Neither team was particularly crisp, but it was a gaffe by Joni Ortio that got the Jets on the board. Ortio went out to play a dump in and lost the puck to a chasing Blake Wheeler, who passed it out front for a Drew Stafford tap-in to make it 3-1. There were a few flurries of offensive chances here and there, but nothing that turned into much. Shots were 10-8 Jets and attempts were 19-12 Jets. It was a fairly sleepy period.
The final frame was another sleepy one. The Jets pressed and pressed but couldn’t generate a ton of dangerous chances, while the Flames held on reasonably well – seeming content to chip the puck into the neutral zone for much of the period. They had a long, late two-man advantage and Mark Giordano scored off a Frolik feed just after the five-on-three expired to make it 4-1. Shots were 10-4 Winnipeg and attempts were 20-14 for the Jets, more score effects, but the Flames held on.
WHY THE FLAMES WON
Two reasons, primarily: they were better than the Jets in the first period when it counted. And then? They were good enough to not lose. They weren’t amazing, and they struggled to connect on good passes throughout the game. But they didn’t buckle under the Jets attack and they defended fairly intelligently for the bulk of the game. For a team that’s blown a lot of late leads throughout this season, it’s nice to see.
Joni Ortio didn’t have to be amazing, so you know they were fairly good in their own end (at least by their standards).
Mikael Backlund had two assists, won 83% of his face-offs and was the catalyst of the team’s most dangerous line. He’s been superb lately and getting onto the scoresheet with regularity.
Joe Colborne and Michael Frolik were also pretty good. And give Jyrki Jokipakka and Deryk Engelland credit: they played north of 22 minutes apiece and neither seemed worse for wear in Dennis Wideman’s absence.
Oh, and Meaghan Mikkelson’s baby was with her at the start of the game and it was the chillest baby ever. Technically we can’t give Red Warrior to somebody that didn’t play, but if we could, that baby would win.
THE RACE TO THE BOTTOM
Edmonton won. Colorado won. The Flames are six points up on Toronto for dead-last, and 11 points back of Colorado for the last playoff spot.
Their “tragic number” is down to 6.5; any combination of 6.5 Colorado wins or Flames losses eliminates them from post-season contention.
The Flames polish off their final lengthy homestand of the 2015-16 season on Friday evening when they welcome Jarome Iginla and the Colorado Avalanche to town.