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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

So the Flames won a game. Do it again

After Game 1, the Flames had a number of notable standouts: an old goalie, a rookie, a shutdown centre and his trouble-making winger. Possibly shutdown centre aside – because we’ve seen him at this before – everyone is still, to an extent, kind of an unknown. You praise the first game, while wondering if they can bring it for the second. And that has to be the goal: there’s no time for resting on any laurels, they’ve got to bring it for the second.

That’s not to say Game 2 will fall on the shoulders of Mike Smith, Andrew Mangiapane, Mikael Backlund, and Matthew Tkachuk. To an extent it will, but the bigger picture dictates it will fall on the entire team: not just those who happened to have the most positive moments of the first game. But still: those players will have to continue being positive contributors anyway, and this is both old and new territory, depending on the player.

We’ve seen Backlund at this for literally years and years and years, and even if those years haven’t included too many playoff games, by now we know what he’s all about: he’ll put up a little over half a point-per-game over the course of the regular season, all the while taking on the other team’s top players – sometimes including the very best players in the world – and rendering them helpless and ineffective.

That’s why he was tasked with the Nathan MacKinnon assignment to begin with, as he was during the regular season. In Game 1, he showed it was the right move. In Game 2, he’ll likely do the same. Where it will get interesting is when the Avalanche have home ice advantage – but that doesn’t change the fact Backlund, in the past few seasons, has finally brought his name into the mainstream Selke conversation. He is, perhaps, the most reliable Flame – alongside Mark Giordano, of course. (It’s probably not a coincidence they’re the two longest-tenured.)

The questions surround the other three standouts, though, albeit to a degree. Tkachuk has never done this before. The Memorial Cup is not the NHL postseason. He had a good rookie season, but he seemed to disappear in the 2017 playoffs: we knew he was good, but he wasn’t there yet. He posted back-to-back near-50 point seasons in his first two years, he drew some of the most penalties in the NHL, he learned to rein himself in, and now we’ve got the player we know is going to get a massive raise soon (and also love, he’s both known and loved). His rookie year was great, but scoring 77 points in his third year was a whole new level.

Is Tkachuk a good player? Yes. Is he likely to be a good player for many years to come? Absolutely. Is it all really starting now? It is – and while there’s little doubt he’ll be able to repeat his Game 1 performance, he’s still got to do it. He will, but for now, we’re all still stuck at the one game, ready and waiting for more.

Less certain is Mangiapane, but then again, very little has actually been certain about him. For some reason, it took until the sixth round of his second year of draft eligibility for a team to take a chance on him. He rewarded the Flames with back-to-back solid AHL seasons, but there seemed to be something of a wall there, a possibility that Mangiapane would end up being one of those players who was too good for the AHL, but not good enough for the NHL. He had his problems getting a meaningful shot in the NHL, yes, but he wasn’t exactly doing a lot to force his way up the lineup, either.

Considering the risk that he might not pan out, with the bonus that he was still relatively young, had great numbers, and was one of the Flames’ top forward prospects, there might have been a chance he could have been traded for more experienced NHL help now. That’s pure speculation on my part, and definitely a thought I held prior to the trade deadline (you’ve got to give to get, after all, and the Flames have very little of value they could possibly be willing to give). However, Mangiapane seemed to turn that first corner once he scored his first NHL goal in January. Slowly but surely, he looked increasingly like he belonged in the NHL on a full-time basis, and this directly coincided with the Flames’ fourth line becoming one of their better ones. Though he didn’t get to play much in Game 1, the sheer smarts and skill on display with his goal were jaw-dropping, and hint at a brighter future to come. Unlike Tkachuk, though, he doesn’t have the resume to so handily suggest it will come – but for this year, at least, as long as the Flames have a player who can do that towards the bottom of their lineup, then the threat will be ever-present, and the team will stay deep. It’s exciting for the future – while we also consider that the future is a process, and if it happens, it will take time to get there. But it sure looks like that’s the path we’re on.

And then, the major outlier: the goalie. If a forward falls short of what he can do, another forward will pick up the slack. The same can be true of defencemen. But goalies are not afforded that luxury, and an entire series, an entire run, can come down to just how good or bad a goalie’s play is. Lest we forget the amazing March Brian Elliott had one year, and the April that got him run out of town right after: there are no guarantees, and this season, Smith has been great at keeping everyone on their toes.

One good game does not erase everything. Smith earned the absolute hell out of his Game 1 shutout, and if he can harness everything he did in the playoff opening and keep it going forward, considering the quality and depth of skaters he plays behind, then other teams could very well be completely screwed. But he also has an entire season’s worth of work in which he failed to ultimately hit the .900% mark, and time-wise, he isn’t that far removed from some devastating losses. Nothing as bad as we saw at the start of the season anymore, but it has continued to lurk there, a number of factors throwing caution at an otherwise feel-good narrative, chief of all his age and injury history. Not a single one of those concerns appeared to be a factor in Game 1, but then, he’s got to go out and prove they won’t be a factor for Game 2, either. And the games beyond that, of which there will hopefully be several. It’s up to him to erase all semblance of doubt – and as good a start this was, it was still just that: a start.

So four players had an absolutely astounding game that’s easy to praise them for, and they deserve every bit of it.

But it was also just one game. They’ve got to do it again.

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

    It is the efforts of the entire team that lead to a portion of that team creating goals.

    I’m quite tired of the statements that lay blame on a line, or players, as failing (unless their actions directly result in a goal against), when it is clear that their play is part of a cumulative success of the team. Do you really think that our first line being a constant threat (and the Avalanche having to deal with it) had no effect? It did. Just like all the other players who are part of this team: they all are part of its success.

  • buts

    I’m eating crow on Smith and I don’t mind at all. He earned the shutout and all the praise that goes with it. 15 more wins boys. Someone is going to raise the cup…..why not us?

    • Cfan in Van

      Good on you Buts. I haven’t been exactly full of praise to Smith here, but I’ve also always held the belief that it was possible for him to climb back into form (although perhaps not probable). Gnawing on a well deserved side of crow myself here, and it’s actually surprisingly delicious. Tastes kinda like victory.

  • Off the wall

    I had a few of my teams old timers hockey players text me during the game. I told them that Smith would be great during the playoffs. They mocked me endlessly.

    It was such a surprise to have some of them text me throughout the game, praising Smith and the Flames for a well- played, playoff start!

    I’m so proud of this team.

    Tkachuk was a monster, Backlund held MacKinnon at bay, Gaudreau back checking, Lindholm, Neal, Bennett, Hathaway doling our hits nonstop and our lil rookie Mangiapane playing his heart out!

    Our D was solid. All our forwards did a great job in limiting scoring chances. That 4th line is something else!

    I will not find fault with our team. I love Peters and he makes our team accountable and ready.

    It’s been a while since we’ve been able to say good things about the Flames in the playoffs.
    I can’t express how nice it was to hear a loud Dome last night!
    I’m proud of our fans. Way to support Smith with the chants!

    We need to dwell on the great season we’ve had and all the positives that have come to fruition because of it, not in spite of it.

    Driving my truck with the Flames adorning it, makes me one proud and happy fan! 🔥

    • Cfan in Van

      How many complementary honks are you getting over in Vic, for that fine chariot of fire? On a dog walk 2 days ago, stopped a guy for a chat who had a Stamps hoodie on. The vibe is strong in Flames land, and I love to see so many people completely jacked and in full support of this team. Regardless of how far they make it, this year feels so much different than 14/15 and 16/17, and it feels real good!

      GFG!

      • Off the wall

        Cfan, a few complimentary honks for sure!

        Most people are pretty happy seeing a Canadian team represented here on the Island. I’ve had quite a few tell me how glad they are that I’m not a Leafs fan! They got some extra hate on for them here.
        I guess everyone hates the bias that comes from the East. Myself included.

        The truck is certainly getting people talking. It’s a great time to be a Flames fan! 🔥

      • Albertabeef

        That reminds me of all the compliments I got on my Flames cap I wore on my summer of 2004 vacation on the coast. I really thought I was going to have more issues than I did lol. Actually it was a pretty decent trip and my hat opened up a lot of hockey talk. Red flaming C on a black background is still one of my favorites.

  • oilcanboyd

    Still trying to beat down Smith, Ari.
    Age based on date of birth is not a true indicator of the “health age”. An overweight couch potato may be 25 but his body age based on his health may be that of a 30 year old. A guy like Smith, at 35 is likely as healthy as a 30 year old. Likewise Gio.
    Also, what Brian Burke says about Smith, is that his puck handling ability of getting the puck and moving it up the ice saves his D-men from getting pounded if they have to go for the puck behind the net all of the time. Flames analytic staff calculated that over a 20 game period before Christmas Smith saved the D-men 120 hits.

    • Pancakes

      Someone else brought up this same point somewhere else: Smith playing the puck also negates the dump and chase by a fast forward line (ie. MacKinnon’s). Toronto’s speedy guys did this to Boston last night too. Rask played the puck zero times behind the net and the fast TO forwards feasted on the defence and came up with the puck many times.

      • First Name Unidentified

        When the Flames played the Isles quick back to back. Isles are the best team in NHL to dump and chase. Smitty’s puck handling nullified 70% of their dump and chase that they are so successful agai st other teams. We know the results of both games.
        He also keeps our Dmen from bone crushing hits on the boards by handling the puck.
        If you want more just youtube his journey to the conference final, it’s awesome. If we get that Smith back, we’re winning the cup.

    • oddclod

      Lol good thing coach knows better. Smitty gave em the time to find their legs and start to sweg for game 2. That’s alot of weight to toss on Ritter.

      That’s veteran chit, and hallmark coaching.

      Love how he flashes the leather and with zero emotion goes for a splash of water like “I’m just doin my job, and the job ain’t done.”

  • fumanchu1968

    How was the Red Mile on 17th?

    I live 6,000 kms away but will be going to Cowtown for the second round…Will be going to a game, if the Flames make it past the Avs. GFG!

    • Cfan in Van

      Please keep us updated on your journeys. I love hearing about the ultra-dedicated, like you and SydScout. Good on ya, and good on the Flames for pounding out a solid game one.

      • SydScout

        Cheers Cfan. I’m there if we make the SCF – work is irrelevant, as is the distance, in that event. Tickets or not, want to be there with y’all. Also lined up tickets and road trip with a mate for the Jets outdoor game in SK in Oct. could be two trips to YYC in quick succession!

        Keep me in the loop with how awesome it is to be in Calgary right now. So bloody jealous, but you all deserve this!

        • Cfan in Van

          Cheers right back. Unfortunately I’m about 1000km away from the red mile, in North Vancouver. Like you, I’ll be dropping everything (including cash) to make a pilgrimage if they make it far. My old man was at game one, and I’m still getting over the envy.

  • Joel Ottos Jock

    Really? Smith has 1 good playoff game and the lynch mob has him a saint! I’m still not a believer in Smith. I hope I’m wrong, but bashing Ari for voicing her opinion..c’mon. Smith was not a good goalie this season.

    • cberg

      Smith has the All-time NHL record as best goalie SV% in the playoffs…. limited number of games, sure, but still outstanding when it counts…. for all you haters/doubters.

          • Joel Ottos Jock

            He is, and no. You dont build around a guy like Frolik, but to give the allcolades you and other are giving to Smith is ridiculous. He may have some decent numbers in the playoffs from 7+ years ago, but he never won a cup. Does it really matter if Gaudreau didnt hit 100 points if the Flames win the cup? Does it matter that Neal had below average numbers if the Flames win a cup? NO. Telling everyone about decent numbers when you didnt win is just trying to justify being a loser.

    • Lazarus

      Funny enough postgame Chucky said Smith had a good season. Think he’d know… SMITH HAD A BAD MONTH AND A HALF.
      Solid since. If you want to hate on him for that and the fact you want your face in the crease..giv’er. But that’s petty

      • Spider you muda&@#ker

        Ill second that Lazarus! He had a rough start to the season and his numbers suffered because of it. I like his take after the game when he said he has been in playoff mode for 3 months now. Smith is tough as nails and he loves a good fight. I also credit BP for building his confidence back up and getting him ready for the playoffs. Smith was a broken man early in the year and people didn’t hesitate to pile on him but BP new better and got this guy built back up. Its paying dividends right now but its only one game I get it. Regardless if he wins another game or not I will give the old dog credit for never giving up GFG!

    • calgaryfan

      good call Joel Ottos Jock. It would be great if game 1 Smith is the goalie we see for the playoffs. Smith was not good for most of the season and Ari just wrote what everyone saw. My guess the Av’s will not be shooting pucks at Smith’s glove next game. Go Flames Go

  • His Dudeness

    You called Smith old again. Somebody is going to be angry. I forget his name. But cue up the PC ageism snowflake.

    I’m still picking feathers out of my teeth from the crow I ate from game one. I hope I have to eat 15 more.

  • Hockey4life

    I just don’t see the Avs giving Calgary much trouble. I think they will definately win a game or 2 but a one line team doesn’t stand a chance against the depth the Flames have. When your top line plays almost half the game, you’re just asking for trouble. It might work out for a game or two but not a series.

  • HOCKEY83

    Maybe after the next game we can have 3 more waste of time articles taking about Mike Smith’s horrible season because he had a….”good game”…in the playoffs.

        • Porcupine at a balloon party

          The vendetta is that he is the second best goalie on the team and had a good run at end of season on the premise of playing all the worst opponents. I don’t fully agree with that, but that’s been her argument before and it’s not really wrong, just a little extreme.

          I personally think there’s room to give credit where credit is due, Smith played his best game as a flame last night, and had he not held us in it until mid second period where we scored and seemed able to shake our nervous/tentative energy, we may very well of lost that game. I think in her own way, she was crediting him for that. But she is right, there’s a long way to go. 15 more wins to go to be exact. He doesn’t need to win every game, he doesn’t need a shutout every game, but he does need to give us a chance every game, and I think that’s the point Ari was trying to get across

        • BringtheFire 2.0

          Her Vendetta? You mean YOUR vendetta. Ari has been consistent in her concerns and criticisms about Smith. If this were three weeks ago all of you would be agreeing with her. Two weeks before that, insulting her, maybe. Her message hasn’t changed. But you guys are back and forth, back and forth…you people are bandwagoining know-nothings who forget the most important hockey lesson:

          Even keel.

          Don’t worry, Ari: when Smitty blows a game and you have the same message they’ll just panic again and start agreeing with you. Then when he has a good game they’ll all be gunning for your throat again.

          • Em Durp Em Hrudey

            You are not incorrect about the bandwagon jumping Smith hate here. I think what most are getting at is let it go already. He had his ups and downs this year and the disdain during the downs was at an Oilersnation level. It would be nice to put it in the past and not bring it up in every single article. It’s almost becoming WW ala Backlund repetitiveness. I for one never jumped off the bandwagon as I have always stated since last season…..Smith is a WARRIOR!!!

  • Chucky

    The problem with Ari’s take, is in her last sentence. While Smith and Backlund have to show up for the next game a shutout is not required. If the first line steps up with 3 or 4 and Gio picks up one then Colorado better find some depth scoring that they have not been able to locate all year.
    This team has demonstrated the ability to win in several different ways with the entire lineup able to step up. That is probably why they can have fun because the responsibility does not rest on a few.

  • First Name Unidentified

    So anyone going to the Olympic Plaza for the away games? I heard it’s going to be a nice affair. I’ll give it a shot if it doesn’t snow or rain.