Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Flames 4, Avalanche 0 post-Game 1 embers: Just another game

The last time the Flames were in the playoffs, absolutely nothing went in their favour. This time, everything did – but it helps that the team itself is really quite good, too, and did everything it could to fully earn that win.

Feel of the game

This is almost certainly true of most sports cities, and Calgary isn’t special in this regard, but: is this not a city built for the playoffs? The building was loud. It was aggressively red. Chants rang clear and true the entire game, and the atmosphere was near-tangible – even through a screen. It hasn’t been that long since the Flames were in the postseason, but it’s been an incredibly long time since they’ve made it and had a shot at actually accomplishing something. This year, there are expectations. This year, the team can actually meet them.

But it wasn’t a particularly dramatic start to the game. Though the Flames were the better team, the Avalanche looked plenty dangerous at times too – especially when they got a powerplay, something the Flames granted them three in a row of: two in the first period, and one at the very start of the second.

They survived them. The Flames dusted themselves off after their infractions and kept the puck going, keeping the Avalanche from doing too much with it – though they had their own troubles in getting something meaningful going in the offensive zone as well. At least, until Andrew Mangiapane out-waited Philipp Grubauer, and until Matthew Tkachuk did what he does best as a net-front presence on the powerplay, and suddenly, the Flames had a multi-goal lead – and the way Mike Smith had been playing, that seemed like it would be enough.

It was, but it’s the playoffs, and you never know what’s going to happen or how things are going to go horribly wrong at a moment’s notice. But the Flames held on, Smith continued to thwart the Avalanche, the Flames added two goals late in the game, and that really was it. The late-game shenanigans meant absolutely nothing: from top to bottom, it was clear the Flames were the better team.

The good news

That was Smith’s best game of the season, and it isn’t even close. He had a horrendous start to the year. It continued. Occasionally, he’d deliver gems, but there was always something else to them: that his teammates had done a good job limiting high-danger chances against him, that he was playing a weaker opponent, that something just looked off. There was absolutely none of that for Game 1: it’s the playoffs and he had to stare down Nathan MacKinnon and a dangerous powerplay over and over and over again. His reflexes and reaction time were there. When he lost the puck, he found it again. There were no awkward movements, there were no questionable decisions, there was no floundering or flailing or “what are you doing get back in your net” – Smith just played a smart, clean game featuring a dramatic glove hand, and the only moments of anxiety came from when the puck suddenly trickled out into the open at a pace that not even the Avalanche could process. There’s a meme that James Neal had a bad regular season because he was saving it for the playoffs; what if that’s actually what happens with Smith? He hasn’t looked that good in a long time. If he can keep it up… Also his retro gear looks so good.

Mikael Backlund’s line is getting tasked with a big assignment in shutting down MacKinnon’s, and they passed Game 1 with flying colours. Not only did they play a part in not letting the Avalanche’s top players score, but they got plenty of chances themselves (even if they could only capitalize on the man advantage or with an empty net). The 3M line has picked up right where it left off from the regular season: being one of the Flames’ best lines at both ends of the ice.

The Flames are deeper than the Avalanche, and there’s really no better way to prove it than by Mangiapane opening the scoring with an absolutely gorgeous goal. Most probably wouldn’t have him pegged for the Flames’ first goal of the playoffs, but it was wholly earned. It was as though it was happening in slow motion, but you just knew it was going to go in: there was no way he wasn’t going to tuck it in, even as he was falling to the ice. Grubauer wasn’t going to be able to get a handle on it. And though that’s the moment that counted, the fourth line – the DAG line – whatever line they are – created other chances, too. They’re their own force to be reckoned with. It’s been this way for a while now.

The bad news

Penalties: please stop taking them. Though it didn’t come back to bite the Flames in this game, that’s not a guarantee for future games at all. The Avalanche have top tier weapons of their own, and had their fair share of moments looking dangerous. Smith isn’t going to get another three straight shutouts (probably); at some point, the Avalanche are going to score. Why make it easier for them? The Flames won the special teams battle, but it doesn’t take too much to see it going the other way.

While the second and fourth lines continued their stellar play from the end of the season, the top line unfortunately seemed to follow suit with its own recent play, as well. They had their moments – and Johnny Gaudreau was dangerous enough to draw multiple penalties – but the threat didn’t seem to be there like we know it can be.

Numbers of note

51.69% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF. Their shining moment was a 62.96% second period – the very frame that saw them pull away with a two-goal lead and never really look back. They had things under control after that.

7 – Backlund led the way with seven shots, the most on the team.

45.16% – MacKinnon’s 5v5 corsi in the 14:06 he had to play against Backlund. He was a 66.67% in the three minutes he got away from him. Line matching: it works. Backlund: he’s going to be very valuable these playoffs.

23:22 – Backlund’s ice time, including almost three and a half minutes of special teams time. He was by far the most-played forward; only Mark Giordano (26:02) and TJ Brodie (23:27) had more ice time than he did.

15:00 – Gaudreau’s ice time, which is a pretty sharp step down from his usual affair – he’s only played fewer than 16 minutes four times this season. When he last played in the playoffs in 2017, he hovered around 20 minutes a game. Both the penalty kill and line matching were likely factors: his line still got the second most ice time out of the forward group, and MacKinnon played 25 minutes (17 at 5v5).

7:47 – Mangiapane played the least out of all the Flames (again, probably in part due to special teams). Still, when you consider just how important he was and how good he can apparently be, that’s a bit surprising.

5:55 – Travis Hamonic led everybody in penalty kill ice time, with Giordano right behind him at 5:43. Please direct praise towards them.

100% – Good game, Smith.

Final thought

The Flames played Game 1 like they’d played their first 79 games of the year. There wasn’t anything inherently special: it’s just what they’ve been doing since October. And what they’ve been doing since October got them 50 wins, so, of course, playing the exact same way brought them up to 51.

They’re a good team, and their greatest weakness showed up in a huge way for them. It’s still not quite apparent how high their ceiling actually is.

  • withachance

    Putting my hands up for really wanting Rittich to start playoffs, but man Smith was a unit. What stood out was his puck handling – Avs couldnt get significant cycle for much of the 2nd and 3rd because Smith would just always make the right pass out.

    It’s risky business but when it works it really does help the team to transition faster. Go Smitty!

    • cjc

      The game was over by then, but I wasn’t a fan of the pass to Tkachuk that led to the EN goal. That was closer to being picked off than was comfortable.

      But it was one of his best games this season, no question.

      • withachance

        Fair point. I enjoyed watching him outwait the forecheckers throughout the game though, great patience, but i dont think ill be ever comfortable watching him play the puck haha.

        Think im ok with that though!

    • Avalain

      You can really see the difference when you compare with Boston. Toronto used the dump and chase tactic, which actually can work well when you have speed and the goalie never plays the puck.

  • Jourflamesfan

    That first win was so important. I know it’s only game 1 and doesn’t always decide a series but there is much less pressure than if they had lost.
    Oh, and they can play much better than this.

  • Skylardog

    Ras Andersson

    No sheltering with lowest O-zone starts of the D, with only Janko (kudos as well) having a lower O-zone start%. Plays 16:09, and posts an assist.

    Hell of a start to a playoff career for a guy who was a question mark to begin the season.

    Awesome outing by all!

    • Flames fan since 83

      Yesterday I suggested breaking up the Aves top line to be to the Flames advantage. Kind of like having a legendary blended Whisky and deciding to remove one of the blends, and dilute it down with an inferior blend. (that way taking the superior blend and using it to boost another bottle) (nonsense!)
      I feel the Flames do this same strategy by playing Anderson down on the third pairing.

      • Avalain

        If you’re saying that having Andersson on the third pairing dilutes the power of the top pairing, I’m not convinced. Depth on D is arguably more important than on F because if the bottom pairing was awful it would be a huge weakness that could be easily exploited by the other team.

        Plus, Brodie was amazing in this game. He likely saved a couple goals by himself and he never made any dumb plays like drifting away from the player in the slot he’s in charge of covering.

        • Flames fan since 83

          Avalain, Yes, I am saying Andersson is better than Brodie. And in that regard, having Brodie with Gio is in fact a dilution.
          What your saying, is you think Brodie is better than Andersson. I disagree. (which is ok).
          Now in saying that. I do get your point about depth and the strategy of splitting up Anderson and Gio. But this strategy is similar to what Ave’s unsuccessfully did last night with their top line.
          Watch. If Brodie falters, or we are behind in the game, it will be a matter of time before Peter’s puts Anderson up with Gio. Peters has done this before.

          • withachance

            I think when it comes down to it, which combo do you think is better?

            Gio – Brodie Gio – Andersson
            Fanta – Andersson Fanta – Brodie

            I personally think they’re about the same… Just depends on the type of matchups you want to play. Against the Avs, I like Brodie with Gio to match with the footspeed of Mackinnon and Rantanen. Against someone like SJS or VGK, I think Ras with Gio could be a good way to go!

            In BP we trust!

          • FlamesFanOtherCity

            I haven’t seen Brodie play with Fanta, so I can’t tell you if the switch would make the D better or worse. Ras is one of the most consistent players out there. He can carry the puck in by himself and he also can QB the PP#2. He looks pretty darn good out there with Fanta, so I don’t know if there is a need for a change. Maybe, just maybe they could use him on the top PP unit. Then again, he was out there for Backlund’s goal.

          • Flames fan since 83

            Hockey 83.
            Read your comment again. Your predicting that “if need be” Peters will not change the lines.
            Tell me you didn’t really mean that.

      • Heeeeere’s Johnny

        It would be worthwhile for the Flames to consider breaking up their top line on the road so as to avoid MacKinnon line on Monahan line (not good stats on that matchup). It might be as simple as flipping Johnny and Matty and asking Colorado to choose their poison. I think Matty and Lindy can shift the balance and Backlund Frolik could as well.

  • Cfan in Van

    That moment when you realize Smith is slamming the door shut, Gaudreau is throwing hits and grinding guys against the boards… Absolutely amazing feeling to watch that transformation. There’s been some great additions to the team this year, but the boys who were there in ’16-’17 have learned lessons from that series sweep.

    What a great feeling to start off a Friday.

  • CalgaryBornandRaised

    Fully admit I booed Smith earlier this year for some super soft goals, but last night was perhaps the best game he has ever played in a Flames jersey, he made 3 glove saves that got me out of my seat, and well deserved the Dome to chant his name

    Sky is the limit for these guys if Smith keeps that up, what a game and what a night!

  • Intercourse the Penguins

    Mea Culpa. Last year I posted that Mangia was not “slippery or crafty enough” to play and he would be on LTIR because of it. I was wrong(crow tastes bad). He is much stronger this year and seemingly more aware while he can stick his nose in and check hard. Proper player development or what

  • Flaming Duck

    Great game by Smith, definitely his best of the year. His saves late in the first that held the score 0-0 was the turning point of the game. Overall a very good game for Calgary. Our first line is a bit of a concern. Saw some life from Gaudreau and Lindholm, but Monahan is of concern. If he isn’t injured, then his play is a real concern. Would it really hurt the guy to throw a body check once and a while! Even Gaudreau and Lindholm dished out some nice hits. I am really excited for a long playoff run. GFG!!

    • Albertabeef

      I have seen guys who don’t normally check hurt themselves trying to check. So it is possible it would hurt the guy. How come we say Backs line did a good job of shutting down the av’s top line, but we can’t say their second line did a good job on our top line? Why can we never say this? Why do we always have to suggest they played like crap instead? I’m curious lol.

  • Lazarus

    Peters pushing the right buttons Gain tabbing Smith to open the playoffs. Goes against the majority of the fanbase and comes out looking like a genius. Atta Boy Smitty!!
    Squeezing the last bit of hockey from him now.
    More then a few on here glad he wasn’t dealt for magic beans at the deadline I’d say

      • HOCKEY83

        How difficult is it to add points for goalies. As difficult is it to add points for forwards and D men. It doesn’t get more simple. Goalies not being awarded for points is a crime. Any player in the nhl getting a point should be awarded for it in a pool. Every pool I run or am involved in have goalies getting 2 points for an assist and 25 points for a goal (because they ar3 so rare). In reg season and playoffs.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    One of my biggest take always was at the end of the game with the Avs trying to flex their muscles but they picked on the wrong players. The Swedish mafia comprised of Ras, Backs , Fantenberg, and Lindholm we’re giving it back hard.

  • Chucky

    Flames need to find another answer to the Colorado top line or win this quickly. It is hard to see second round success if Baclund, Tkachuk and Frolik play 20+ minutes for 6 or 7 games. I would not be surprised to see Peters start Jankowski or Ryan against Landeskog MacKinnon and Rantanen just to let them know the Flames depth is good enough to compete.
    Any way you cut it some little guys (Gaudreau, Mangiapane, Ryan) played tough hockey last night. There is no need to goon it up but the game demands that you use your body and those guys showed how it is done.

    • Flames fan since 83

      Rat will be back with Mac and Cog tomorrow. That first line will be back together for sure.
      I can’t see Neal (too slow) and Jank (not speedy) stop that line.
      I think you have to stick with 3M.

      • Flames fan since 83

        And, in a separate post: I’m glad that TJ had a great game last night. But I would feel more comfortable with Anderson with Gio out against the Mac line.
        Anderson makes less mistakes and is better at holding the blue line on the offensive zone. Good defence can be rooted in holding the puck in the oppositions zone.
        I’m going to go one more: Valimaki > Fantenburg. Fantenburg penalty last night was dumbass on his part.

          • Flames fan since 83

            JJF, Point noted. Ras is slower than TJ. But IMO, Ras is still defensively sounder ( higher IQ and stick skills). And as a unit with Gio, that would be our best defensive duo.
            The main argument I heard above is that if we move Ras up, it hurts the Flames Depth. This too is valid. But if this is what you believe, then you must also believe that you feel Ras is better than TJ.
            By simply stating we weaken our third pairing (depth), by exchanging Ras with TJ. is saying Ras is better, is it not?

  • Skylardog

    Yesterday I posted how I thought Mackinnon against Jankos line was the matchup that could hurt us the most. It is the line I would want Mac out against because of the huge speed advantage Macs line would have over our 3rd.

    I watched for it, in particular when the Flames iced the puck with Jankos line out. I never saw them play against each other. There are times when you can get an advantage despite last change.

    Well guess how much they played each other at 5v5? (Mac vs Janko)

    3 seconds. He also had just 3 seconds against Neal.
    Mac – 0 points.

      • withachance

        Yeah thats definitely the line they should target the most, just makes sense for the Avs. However, caveat here is that Mackinnon is so much faster against bascially everyone in the league. Getting a bigger advantage on something you already have advantage in wont push that line over the hump.

        Also bear in mind Janko and Bennett are no slouches defensively, I think you might be pleasantly surprised by the length of Janko and the disruption Bennett can bring. If I was Bednar, I wouldnt want Neal and Bennett running Rantanen and Mackinnon into the boards all night

  • Hockey4life

    Aside from Smitty having the game of his life last night, I was super impressed with Gaudreau. He didn’t look scary offensively (yet) but he played a heck of a hockey game. He skated hard, back checked hard and played big(ger) along the boards. Was proud of him for stepping up his game in that regard. If the kid realizes he can play that way we may see a real new dimension to Gaudreaus game in the coming years.

    • Flames fan since 83

      Agree, this is why I give Johnny a pass for choosing health over putting himself in certain situation in the regular season. 82 games and 99 points also give him a bye in my view.
      It also means he is healthy for playoffs. And you see him now taking higher physical risks than before. He’s growing up and playing smart.
      Sean is still an enigma to me. I thought he would step the physicality but I didn’t notice it last night.

      • Cfan in Van

        Re: Sean. Lindholm really stepped up his physicality last night too. I’m hoping the play of his two wingers will rub off on Monahan over the next couple of games.

        • Jourflamesfan

          Has Monahan ever played different in the playoffs before?
          From what I can recall THIS is his style.
          The only thing missing from him that I can see is that ‘Pep’ in his game.
          I doubt he is injured his Faceoffs were excellent.

      • withachance

        Why does he need to step up the physicality? Like is that needed for the team, Id say its a nice to have, not a neccessity. I just want him to score goals.

    • Cfan in Van

      Proud. That’s the exactly the feeling I had, watching him throw hits and grind it out. Thanks for quantifying that for me.

      What a huge effort for a guy who’s game is usually pretty much the opposite of that.

  • TriPPiNvdUb

    Keep er going boys, McKinnon looked and sounded frustrated after the game. It’s like he was lost in the vortex that is Smittys glove. That was a great performance to build off of!

  • Mickey O'PrimeTime

    “And though that’s the moment that counted, the fourth line – the DAG line – whatever line they are – created other chances, too.”

    Do you like dags?

    ~Mickey O’Neil
    Snatch (2000)

  • Dubble

    WW and other fools: this is what makes Backlund invaluable to the Flames – Sure, he makes mistakes like everyone but he shuts down elite lines and scores points at the same time. not being able to see that night in and night out shames you.