If you’re a fan of bad pun headlines, this was the game for you. If you’re a fan of the Calgary Flames playing a solid 60 minutes of ice hockey but falling short, you’re in the wrong place.
The Flames gave up three goals in the first period and dropped a one-sided match this evening by a 6-2 score to the Minnesota Wild. As a result, the Flames are pushed to the verge of playoff elimination. Aside from a few flurries here and there, the Flames did not look like a team that should be anywhere near the post-season mix.
The Flames never led this game, but they got down five minutes in on a weird goal. Zach Parise scored his first of the game, ending a long cold string for him, with a goal from the red line that got up and under Niklas Backstrom. The Wild scored again about a minute and change later, with Parise converting on a Charlie Coyle feed that beat Backstrom five-hole to make it 2-0. With Mikko Koivu in the box, the Flames power-play got them on the board, as Johnny Gaudreau chipped in a rebound off a face-off win and initial shot that was saved by Dubnyk. However, Parise scored the eventual game-winner on a Minnesota power-play – Sean Monahan was in the box – off a nice tip-in on a Ryan Suter low point shot. For a guy that scored three goals, Parise wasn’t really covered all that much in the first period, which probably explains why he scored so much. Shots were 10-9 Minnesota, but attempts were 23-14 Flames.
The Flames answered back six minutes into the second. After a few back-and-forth plays that died in the neutral zone, Jakub Nakladal went for a skate and rifled a slapper from just inside the blueline that beat Dubnyk to make it 3-2. Just when it looked like the Flames might have a shot, T.J. Brodie got called for hooking and then Jared Spurgeon scored on the power-play to make it 4-2 and erase any chance the Flames had for a comeback. Shots were 16-8 Flames and attempts were 27-11 Flames, but a fair chunk of that was score effects after the Wild got up by a pair of goals and were content to sit back a bit.
The Wild continued to sit back and relax, but the Flames had a couple decent chances in the third that they couldn’t connect on. With Brandon Bollig in the box, Spurgeon scored his second power-play goal of the game to make it 6-2 just past the midway mark of the period. And just after another Bollig penalty expired, Nino Niederreiter scored a nice goal (off a nice pass from Pominville) to make it 6-2. Shots were 11-8 Minnesota, but attempts were 19-18 Flames.
WHY THE FLAMES LOST
Their goaltending wasn’t great. Much of that wasn’t entirely Niklas Backstrom’s fault, but he certainly didn’t steal this game for his squad. He allowed three goals on 24 even-strength shots (which isn’t ideal).
Their penalty-killing was pretty bad. Much of that had to do with allowing Minnesota to move around with impunity on the man advantage, which allowed the Wild to get first and second chances. And they scored three goals on five shots (on five potential penalty kills), which is pretty bad. The Wild got high-quality chances and made them count.
And in general, the Flames seemed content to let Minnesota dictate the pace of the game at even-strength – particularly after they got down a few goals. There wasn’t much of a push during this game and aside from a couple energetic power plays, the Flames weren’t particularly dazzling.
A few Flames had decent games, but I’m gonna go with a sentimental favourite around here: Jakub Nakladal. He doubled his NHL goal two (to two) and was buzzing around much of the night.
Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau were also quite good. And stick-tap to Freddie Hamilton, who came in on late notice in place of a banged-up Josh Jooris and ended up playing a good stretch on that top line. And Tyler Wotherspoon got his first point of the season and played well despite being buried in terms of zone starts.
Finally, a stick-tap to Backstrom: you could tell he was trying, but the game was 2-0 before he really got his legs under him and began to see the puck well. He deserved better than what he got tonight.
THE RACE TO THE BOTTOM
The Flames are now three points out of last place overall and 15 points back of Minnesota for the final playoff spot in the West. Their “tragic number” is one; any combination of a Flames loss or Minnesota win and the Flames are mathematically eliminated from the post-season.
The Flames return home to regroup. They’re back on the practice ice tomorrow and back in action on Saturday night when they face the Chicago Blackhawks in the late game on Hockey Night in Canada. There’s a distinct possibility that they’ll be mathematically eliminated before their game even begins.