You know the “Dig up, stupid” quote from The Simpsons? After a rough Game 2, that’s what an abysmal Game 3 felt like. Spoiler: they did not dig their way out of what is now a series hole.
Feel of the game
Things actually didn’t seem too bad to start. The Avalanche looked like the better team very early on, but the Flames weren’t too far behind them. They even got the first powerplay of the game and Mikael Backlund hit the post; they had a chance.
Until they took two simultaneous penalties, giving the Avalanche – who, remember had the seventh best powerplay to close out the regular season – a full two-minute five-on-three. They weathered the storm initially, things were going to be different… and then Nathan MacKinnon scored.
But they only gave up the one goal. So it was going to be fine, right– and then the Flames took another penalty and gave up another goal.
Okay, not the best start, but this team can definitely overcome a two-goal deficit, especially if they get back into a proper rhythm after the penalties– and MacKinnon embarrassed them again and Cale Makar scored a goal in his first ever game, and it was over. That was it. The Flames were not coming back from down 3-0, they didn’t look even remotely capable of it. What had been a tepid, but acceptable, start quickly devolved into a tire fire, and it continued until the score was well out of reach.
The shorthanded goal against – another one – in the second confirmed it. Sam Bennett’s goal on that same powerplay not even a minute later looked meaningless. Another breakaway goal for the Avalanche confirmed it. Another goal for them to start off the third period really confirmed it, with TJ Brodie’s goal soon after also meaning very little.
The game devolved into scrums and chippiness with a handful of game misconducts, but by that point, who even cared? The Flames had been thrashed and the score was completely out of reach early on. Were the Avs supposed to feel scared, skating free with a four-goal lead and capitalizing off of a Flames team that seemed to have given up? They sure showed them.
The good news
Bennett really is a playoff performer. He has his moments in the regular season, but for whatever reason – three times, in 2015, 2017, and now 2019 – he reaches a whole new level in the postseason. In the playoffs, he’s all heart, the effort is visible every shift, and he doesn’t trade in offence to do it. Is that sustainable? Who knows, but he’s been pretty good about making himself one to watch every game.
There is only so much one could have asked of Mike Smith. The shorthanded goal and an early brain fart when playing the puck that fortunately did not result in a goal against were really the only things he could be faulted on. Otherwise, he stopped how many breakaways? That were how big a percentage of the 50 shots he stopped? The rest of the team should be embarrassed for putting him through that; he’s been the team’s one rock with game-changing potential they’ve had through the first three games.
I’m hopefully not dooming Columbus by saying this, but… you know… it could actually be worse.
The bad news
Basically everybody not named Smith and Bennett. Although some do deserve more blame than others: namely, the players who are supposed to be this team’s offensive backbone and have yet to do anything. Remember: the Flames had five 70+ point scorers in the regular season. They have combined for three goals (one an empty netter) and seven points through three games. Rasmus Andersson is the points leader on defence, which is great for him, personally, but he should at least have some company up there.
Though this is a team-wide problem, the top players hold more of the blame. MacKinnon is by far the best player on the ice, and nobody from the Flames looks close to matching him. What’s the once-vaunted top line doing? I do think Johnny Gaudreau deserves a bit of a pass – he’s clearly trying but his linemates aren’t keeping up with him – but it’s a testament to MacKinnon, really, and how he has that gamebreaking ability to take over an entire contest and dictate how it’s going to go. Smith is the only one who seems capable of doing that for the Flames, but he isn’t going to score goals any time soon. And it would be one thing for MacKinnon to be the best player – there’s no shame in that – but that there’s zero counter from the Flames’ top guys, nor from their depth that was supposed to be better than the Avalanche’s, is causing a major problem.
Penalties. For the third game in a row, penalties. This particular game devolved into something of a mess, but penalties put the Flames in a hole early and they were never able to get out of it. Their penalty kill was perfect in the first two games, but that was bound to come to an end: the Avs’ powerplay has looked that much better than the Flames’, and they were granted the jumpstart they needed to really get it going. There’s a lot of things the Flames have to do, and playing smarter is one of them. You can complain about the officiating all you want, but the infractions the Flames took early on were legitimate, and they brought everything that befell them on themselves.
They gave up. Even when the game still could have been in reach, they ensured it wouldn’t be by playing sloppily, giving the Avs yet another prime scoring chance that occasionally turned into a goal. (Seriously, so many breakaways.) It was pathetic and absolutely nothing like what we’ve seen from them in the regular season this year. The only message the Avs should take from this game is that the Flames told them they could be pushovers when it came to actual gameplay, not scrums for show when down by four goals.
Numbers of note
46.94% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF. It was worse in Game 2 because then, the Avalanche still had a lot to play for; the game was close. In this one, it was over after the first period. The Avs could step off the pressure. They weren’t being threatened.
20:51 – MacKinnon’s ice time. He did get seven shifts in the third period, so his ice time wasn’t limited drastically with the game out of reach, but still: you’d think if there was one thing the Flames might be able to do that would help them, it would be to hopefully see MacKinnon get too much ice and potentially render him less of a threat later in the series. Wasn’t happening this game.
4 minutes – MacKinnon saw almost eight Flames forwards for about four minutes each in 5v5 ice time. There was no linematching to be had, and it didn’t really make a difference either way.
21:09 – Gaudreau’s ice time, not far off from MacKinnon’s at all. Did it seem like it?
13:51 – After playing over 23 minutes in the first two games, at least Mikael Backlund got a bit of a breather. Some of that was probably due to his double minor, though.
17:47 – Even with Rasmus Andersson’s promotion, he still didn’t see a big jump in ice time (likely in part due to not playing much on the penalty kill; he only got a minute shorthanded. Travis Hamonic and Mark Giordano got over six).
13:14 – Oscar Fantenberg’s ice time, the least out of all the defencemen. If there’s a change on the backend, I would assume he’s the one to come out: his removal would cause the least amount of disruption and wouldn’t put too big a load on the next defenceman to theoretically come in. Fantenberg has mostly been steady but unspectacular since joining the Flames, and that would be all well and good for this team normally, but now, they need something a little more spectacular.
56 – The number of shots the Avs had. The Flames could only manage 29. The Avs had 26 shots in Game 1 and 39 in Game 2, so this was definitely much worse.
Remember when this series was supposed to come down to goaltending, and how if the Flames got good goaltending, then combined with their top-heavy nature and formidable depth, they wouldn’t really have any holes? So that’s not how things are working out at all.
Things do not need to be blown up – the Flames could still very much win this series, and they still have a lot they can build on for next season – but wasting Smith’s best performances since he came to Calgary? Yeesh.