At approximately 3:39pm MT on Saturday afternoon, the Calgary Flames were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention as the Minnesota Wild beat Colorado 4-0. Roughly four and a half hours later, the Flames hit the ice to face the defending Stanley Cup champions. (Fittingly, the in-house arena crew played the above Offspring song, featuring a refrain of “There’s no tomorrow” as the game-opening song after the national anthems.) For a team with literally nothing to play for now other than draft lottery placement, the Flames played a pretty good 60 minutes of hockey.
Tonight’s game had all the markings of an ugly one for the home side. Chicago had lost a couple heading in and had a few days off since Tuesday’s loss to stew a bit and regroup. The Flames were coming back home off a three-game road trip and two rather flat efforts in losses. The Flames no doubt knew that they were now completely out of the playoff pack before they began the night’s contest.
The Flames dropped this one 4-1, but if you’re looking for the textbook definition of a “good loss” at this time of year, this is as good a one as you’re gonna get.
Neither side scored in the first period. The Flames had some jump early, but Chicago gradually took over the flow and pacing of the game as the period wore on. Joni Ortio made a couple really nice saves at close-range, and the Flames had a few decent chances at the other end, but for the most part Chicago was the better team. Shots were 9-9, while attempts were 22-17 for the Blackhawks.
The second period was a postcard of the best and the worst of the 2015-16 Flames. Their penalty kill came up huge, with Joni Ortio make a great save on an up-close redirection from Artem Anisimov to keep the game scoreless. Unfortunately shortly after the penalty was killed, T.J. Brodie made an errant pass right to Andrew Ladd, who swooped in and beat Ortio top-corner to make it 1-0. The Flames tied it up a little bit later, as the Hamilton Bros. connected on an odd passing play. Freddie partially fanned on a feed from Johnny Gaudreau, but the puck slid right to Dougie for the one-timer and the goal to make it 1-1. However, the Flames couldn’t capitalize on a series of man-advantages, and the Blackhawks responded before the period ended. After a scoring chance where Ortio collided with a Blackhawk and lost his stick, the Flames failed to clear the zone and before you can say “That’s not good…” Andrew Shaw tipped the puck past Ortio to make it 2-1. Shots were 12-7 Flames and shot attempts were 23-14 Flames.
The third period was rather tight-checking and low-scoring. The Hawks defended well – a contrast from their second period – and managed to keep things close. The Flames pulled Joni Ortio late and Ladd got his second of the night to make it 3-1. They pulled the goalie again late and Teuvu Teravainen scored another empty-netter to make it 4-1. Shots were 11-11 and attempts 19-16 for Chicago.
WHY THE FLAMES LOST
In a nutshell? Defensive miscues. The Flames were right there with the Blackhawks for the majority of the game, but that giveaway by Brodie and their inability to clear their zone on that second goal made the difference. They played well enough to win, but made just enough mistakes in this one that they lost.
They were also unlucky to not score at all on their second period power-play(s). They had a ton of time, space and zone time, and had a lot of good looks. But Scott Darling was full marks tonight, and so the Flames get zero points and the Blackhawks got two.
Dougie Hamilton led the Flames in shots (6) and shot attempts (12), he played over 20 minutes and had the Flames only goal. Let’s give it to him.
And stick-taps to a few other deserving individuals: Joni Ortio (23 saves), Garnet Hathaway (was the textbook definition of a pest) and Johnny Gaudreau (full of pep).
THE RACE TO THE BOTTOM
The Flames are now three points ahead of last-place Toronto, who have a game-in-hand on Calgary. The race to the bottom will probably go down to the wire, folks.
The Flames practice tomorrow and then hop on a plane that will whisk them away to Glendale, Arizona for a game against the Coyotes on Monday night.
You never know, perhaps Mark Jankowski will meet them there…