A sweep was always unlikely. But the Flames didn’t need to make it any easier for the Avalanche to get a win.
Feel of the game
The Flames were outworked from the very beginning, and it took until overtime for them to look like they belonged in the game.
When Sean Monahan scored in the third period to give the Flames their first lead, things felt reminiscent of those games in the regular season in which the Flames played terribly but would pull out a win anyway: you know, the whole “good teams find a way to win” adage. Were it not for a smart play by the Avs as soon as they pulled their goalie, that very well may have been the case. That JT Compher tied the game late was merely justice: Colorado should have put it away long before the third period even started.
The Flames have Mike Smith to thank for even giving them a chance. It wasn’t just the two-on-ones or the breakaways given up to the Avs, it was the sheer domination they had when it came to overall gameplay. They spent way more time in the offensive zone. Though it didn’t score, their powerplay looked more dangerous (how about the full two minutes in which none of the Flames’ penalty killers could get off the ice?). The Avs came ready to play and the Flames did not; furthermore, they seemed to have no clue how to respond to being challenged as aggressively as they were.
The Flames weren’t perfect in Game 1, but they connected well enough on all cylinders that they didn’t need to be; they found a way to put things away. It’s a testament to how good they can be – and how much better Smith is in these playoffs – that they even had a chance of winning this one at all.
Although, to keep things in perspective: that’s a first seed against an eighth seed. One team needed to go all-in to get the win, while the other could be overwhelmed and yet still improbably in it. There’s hope yet, but the Flames can’t play like that again.
The good news
Regular Season Smith died so Playoff Smith could live. The former will not be missed. Smith has looked like a completely different goalie these past two games, and was easily the highlight of the Flames’ entire night. The confidence was (presumably) always there; the body has caught back up to it. There’s just no anxiety watching him anymore, even when he has to face an Avalanche player on a breakaway or in tight in the slot. He’s the reason the team had a chance, and he did a great job with everything the skaters in front of him tasked him to do. (Though he did, occasionally, have some help, to the tune of 29 blocked shots: 19 from the top four defence alone, plus another four from Elias Lindholm.)
One thing Games 1 and 2 have in common: it is amazing to see the Flames’ rookies scoring goals and being impactful players this early in the playoffs. Andrew Mangiapane made a statement in Game 1, and Rasmus Andersson put himself in perfect position in Game 2. Mangiapane is increasingly looking like he’s going to be a player – is this his coming out party? – and while we already knew Andersson is one, we’re still waiting on his AHL offence to show up in the NHL. It’s been coming slowly but surely.
Mangiapane is probably the best story out of all of the Flames forwards, but a couple of other guys deserve credit for some hard-fought games, too. Sam Bennett is up and down in the regular season but he’s been fantastic in the postseason, just as he was the past two times the Flames made it. He’s all heart, and the talent promised that saw him drafted fourth overall reared its head to make him more than the typical grinder depth player. And Johnny Gaudreau is doing absolutely everything he can to create offence. He should definitely have more than one assist by now.
The bad news
The Flames. The Flames as a whole. Through 60 minutes, they were mostly terrible. One of the worst signals of how out of their depth they were was probably the start of the third period: lucky to go into it tied, and the Avalanche came out and just completely dominated them for several minutes. It was tough to watch; the Flames rarely played that poorly in the regular season.
There’s Good TJ Brodie, and then there’s Bad TJ Brodie. Bad Brodie was the one who showed up for Game 2, the most obvious example being the Avs’ first goal. He stood out on the Flames defence as having a particularly rough game. Probably the worst part, though, is that he was fine for Game 1, and there’s seemingly no telling which Brodie the Flames are going to get on any given night. Good Brodie is an asset the Flames would be worse off without. Bad Brodie can be a game changer for the other team.
Though it’s the second game in which the Flames’ powerplay scored and their penalty kill was perfect, I still actually like the Avalanche’s powerplay more. It’s simply more consistently threatening. The Flames, meanwhile, have spent a lot of time chasing, can’t seem to get set up, and give up shorthanded chances and/or goals. Towards the end of the game it looked much better – their powerplay in overtime looked completely competent, and it was a shame it couldn’t score – but it was a mess early on, and it needs to be better going forward.
Also, even though their penalty kill remains perfect, the Flames still need to cut down on taking penalties. Roughing at the end of the period? Not helpful. Throwing the puck over the glass? Also not helpful. That said, though, the refereeing has had its own issues – in other games especially, if you want to listen to Leafs fans – but the embellishment call on Gaudreau? Really?
Numbers of note
38.3% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF on the night. Yeah, that seems about right. They were playing at a 30% level through the first three periods and shot up to an 83.33% for overtime, so we know they can be better, but they’ve really got to be better much earlier than they were. Say from the first minute onwards.
68 – The number of shots Smith faced plus the number of blocks the Flames had. For the Avs, it was 49. Say what you will about the Flames’ overall poor play, but it was still a team effort in trying to keep the puck out of their net – though it probably would have helped if they’d done more on offence, period.
46.88% – Monahan’s 5v5 CF on the night. It was the highest on the Flames. So that’s terrible.
77.27% – Nathan MacKinnon’s 5v5 CF when facing off against Mikael Backlund. He was a 66.67% away from him. The Avs had a good game and he had a good game; nobody was stopping him.
23:22 – Backlund led the way in ice time for Flames forwards once again. Going to be really interesting to see how much he gets without home ice advantage.
18:51 – Gaudreau’s ice time got back up there, though, at least.
11:25 – Mangiapane got more ice time but he still played the least among all Flames forwards. He probably deserves more.
5:10 – Brodie’s ice time on the powerplay, leading all Flames players. The second unit got more time than the first. It was probably earned, though; they seemed less of a disaster.
24:14 – Brodie’s overall ice time, the second most on the defence (pour one out for Mark Giordano’s 28:55). Though Andersson played with Giordano in the third period, Brodie still got a ton of time in the game.
.923% – Smith’s save percentage. If you include playoff and regular season games together, it was tied for his 17th best game this year by that metric. Against playoff teams only? Tied for seventh. He looks like a different goalie.
One thing I don’t quite get: vitriol directed towards specific players. The skaters, as a whole, were atrocious as a collective unit. One single player doesn’t make or break such a terrible team effort (the only one who really can is the goalie, and he tried very very very hard to overcome everybody else), so laying all of the blame at individuals doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Do adjustments have to be made and does video have to be studied? Yeah. But that’s a team focus – because this was a team loss.