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Photo Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Avalanche 3, Flames 2 (OT) post-Game 4 embers: Running out of time

The Flames looked much better to start off Game 4. They took some very necessary steps forward. It was the kind of game you’d be happy with if they were tuning up for the playoffs, not fighting to avoid being one game away from getting eliminated.

Feel of the game

After the overall disaster that was Game 3, the bar was set pretty low for the Flames, but they were able to clear it early. No, they weren’t getting too much in the way of actual offensive chances of their own – occasionally thwarted by a missed pass or a stick just not being in the exact spot it needed to be, mostly thwarted by their own undoing as they played a perimeter game in the offensive zone – but they were also doing something very right: they were limiting what the Avalanche, and specifically Nathan MacKinnon, were able to do.

That’s where the positives end. It seems as though the Avs have gotten completely in the Flames’ heads: they were easily burned by them in Game 3, so they focused on shutting them down in Game 4. Unfortunately, while working to shut them down, they neglected to actually try to score themselves.

As the game went on, that structure loosened up, and everything devolved into chaos. Or, rather, chaos from the Flames’ point of view, because the Avalanche seemed to know what they were doing. They were consistently the more dangerous team, that earlier structure turning into “eh, Mike Smith will handle it,” with no real visible payoff for the Flames themselves.

Sure, the Flames led for most of the game, and even briefly had a two-goal lead in the third period, but right when that earlier defensive structure really would have helped them, they let the Avalanche dictate everything. That resulted in the game being tied with mere minutes to go and, just like in Game 2, set the Avalanche – the better team all night – up for the win.

The Flames aren’t dead yet, and they made real progression in this game. But after seeing how the first four have gone, expecting them to win three in a row might be a tall order. Sure, things would be different if they could have held on in Games 2 and 4, but the poor play would have still been there, and has been for most of these playoffs.

A number one seed shouldn’t be letting a number eight seed dictate the series to them, and yet here we are.

The good news

Smith. Doesn’t really need elaborating at this point. He’s the main reason they won Game 1 and is the main reason Games 2 and 4 were even winnable to begin with.

Rasmus Andersson and Juuso Valimaki. This was technically Andersson’s rookie season, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I thought of him as a rookie: he’s been poised for months on end and he was one of the few Flames actually consistently trying to create offence, whether it be through taking a lot of shots or even straight up driving to the net. As for Valimaki, he not only picked up his first career playoff point, but he stood out on a couple of defensive plays as well – all in his very first playoff game, after barely playing in the NHL since November. The Flames have a bright future on their backend with those two; it seems like a top pairing in the making.

As poorly as things have gone, it’s really cool to see all of these players who haven’t had a chance to do anything in the playoffs make the most of it. The two defencemen referenced above are two of them, as is fellow rookie Andrew Mangiapane. It was also nice to see Elias Lindholm get his first playoff goal (as disappointing as he’s been overall the past several games). But the real feel-good moment goes to Derek Ryan: he took the long road to get to the big league, he never had the chance to play in the playoffs before, and at 32 years young, he got his first playoff goal, too. He’s been a revelation since at least the second half of the season, and it was awesome to see him achieve that.

The bad news

Nathan MacKinnon is still the best player on the ice. That’s not necessarily a terrible thing in and of itself – some things just can’t be helped – but it would be nice if one of the experienced, talented Flames skaters (say, anyone who scored 70+ points in the season) could challenge him at some point.

I’m really loathe to put him here, because there was a lot of blame to go around – these are team-wide failures, it isn’t isolated moments costing the Flames their past three games, it’s 60+ minutes of just not being the better team – but Mikael Backlund had some rough sequences to end the game. The late penalty call (though Noah Hanifin could have joined him in really wearing the goat horns right after), being that close to scoring the overtime winner and just failing, and missing his man on the actual overtime winner. His line showed a lot of improvement from the previous game, too; things just deteriorated as the game went on. He’s still an important player for the Flames, which is what made the end of the game such a shame for him.

That said: in the regular season, the Flames were tied for the second most goals scored with 289. The instant analysis for this series was that the Flames’ scoring abilities would overwhelm the Avalanche and their main weakness would be in net. It’s been the opposite: their strength has been in net and their scoring has completely dried up. It’s not a case of Philipp Grubauer outplaying Smith, either; they just are not getting the chances. At all. The top line briefly had some life early in the game and it just went away. Nobody could make anything actually connect. The powerplay remains non-lethal. You’re not going to win if you can barely score.

So far, the only way the Flames have been able to win is if Smith gets a shutout. That’s a terrible strategy to take – especially when giving up 50+ shots to the other team in back-to-back games.

The officiating was better this time around – the refs actually let the teams play, for the most part – but what they chose to let go and what they chose to actually call was baffling. Oh well!

Numbers of note

40.65% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF on the night. It got progressively worse as the game went on, culminating in a particularly brutal 34.38% third period. They may have been the second best team on the ice, but they might have pulled off a win if they had played better to close out the game.

60%+ – Only two Flames players had high corsi ratings on the night: Valimaki and Andersson.

1+ – Seven players have gotten their first career playoff point(s) out of this series: Matthew Tkachuk, Andersson, Lindholm, Mangiapane, Ryan, Valimaki, and Hanifin.

1 – Johnny Gaudreau has all of one assist in this series. So that’s not great. There’s nobody else who can really fill that 99-point void. Players like that are really tough to find – so when they go cold in the all-or-nothing nature that is the playoffs, the entire team feels that.

0 – Six Flames still have yet to pick up a point this series: Oscar Fantenberg, Michael Frolik, Travis Hamonic, James Neal, Garnet Hathaway, and Mark Jankowski. Of the six, Frolik and Hathaway are probably the only ones who deserve at least a point at this stage. As a depth defenceman now unlikely to draw back in, Fantenberg gets a pass.

52 – The Flames followed up allowing the Avalanche 56 shots in Game 3 by letting them get 52 in Game 4. They are not in this series. At all.

7 – Andersson led the shot clock for the Flames with seven of his own; the next highest was three from Backlund, Lindholm, and Mark Giordano each. On the one hand: yay, Andersson is awesome! On the other hand: what the hell is this formerly high-scoring team doing with a rookie third pairing defenceman taking the offensive charge?

17 minutes – Valimaki and Andersson both got relatively limited minutes compared to the rest of the Flames defence, but they provided everything and more you could possibly want out of a bottom defence pairing. No guarantee they’d have played as well as they did if they’d gotten more minutes and tougher opponents (they were kept mostly away from MacKinnon), but it probably couldn’t have hurt to have given them a shot.

Final thought

Welcome to the playoffs, in which the regular season doesn’t matter. Yes, the Flames are disappointing right now: they shouldn’t be on the verge of being eliminated in five games. But also, the NHL playoffs are the epitome of things just sometimes happening. No team is going to be a bigger disappointment than the Lightning were this year, but nobody’s going to say the Lightning were a bad team based on just four games, right?

It’s hard to win a championship: there’s a guarantee someone will do it every year, but it’s only ever going to be one team. A lot of things have to go right for that one team to do it.

Things aren’t going right for the Flames right now, and that’s largely their own doing. But don’t forget: they still have the foundations in place for a good future, and they didn’t go all in this year. The long-term should be fine, even if the short-term is frustrating.

  • Ben.

    if after getting 108 shots in 2 games
    and
    if after giving mostly weak flacid perimeter shots
    line combo and player changes aren’t made
    then this debacle increasingly falls on Bill Peters

  • Dougiefred

    Today I made the mistake of reading the comments on Pike’s “lineup” from when the puck drops until the game is over. Reminds me of being at the bar late on a Saturday night, a bunch of drunks who think they know it all yelling as loud as they can.
    I haven’t been this stupid for about a month.

  • Off the wall

    The Avalanche of the postseason, have become the Flames of the regular season.
    They stole a page outta our book, and are winning while doing it.

    You have to credit Bednar for having his team well prepared.
    They have executed their game plan perfectly.

    Remember when teams couldn’t handle our barrage of wave-after-wave of sustained pressure?

    Last night I had hope. We were up 2-0. But then the Avalanche unleashed a flurry of attack on us. Mr Playoff- James Neal decided it was beneficial for him to blow the zone while we didn’t have FULL possession of the puck. He’s almost at the Center line when we get scored on!
    He should have been benched right away.

    We’re losing because Peters won’t change anything. Sorry Peters, you’re a great coach, but that can’t happen in the playoffs, especially when we’re fighting for a MUST win.

    We can still win this, though that’s equivalent to me winning the lottery.

    The swift and the sure win the race. I’m sure without changes to the lineup next game, our fate will be in the hands of our real Mr Playoff, Mike Smith!

    Guess who’s on for the OT goal?

      • KeepitReal

        I’m sure there are some interesting closed door conversations with Tre on KovaNeal’s playing status. Peters ain’t blind. He’s probably handcuffed to this parlour piano who is so outta tune that it hurts the ears when you try to play it.

        • Captain Ron

          I think Tre wants to win as badly as anyone else in the organization and I highly doubt he is forcing the coach to play certain players over others. This is about winning right now and I am going to bet we see at least one more interesting change tomorrow.

          • KeepitReal

            I would luv to think that franchise politics, secret agendas, and egos don’t play a factor in player personnel decisions. But sadly that world doesn’t exist.

          • Captain Ron

            Sure but you are insinuating that Treliving is telling Peters to “play the piano or else” and I’m not buying that. But group discussions are absolutely happening behind closed doors.

      • Off the wall

        I hope you didn’t spend too much money decorating your truck Skylar.

        It looks like I’m going to be pulling the “Go Flames Go “ magnets of the truck soon enough!

        It’s always fun having people laugh at you while you’re driving.
        I think I’ll put one of those middle fingers on the antenna…

        • Skylardog

          Not as much as you but I am in for over $100 including the flag, flag pole, window flags and paint. Paint still not complete. I will get you some pics tomorrow

    • OntarioFlame

      Legit, the two problems last night 1) Gadreau looked like he didn’t want to have the puck at all. 2)Neal is basically a possession killer everytime they had controlled O-Zone time the puck would go to his side and immediately possession lost. I say BENCH Neal put in Czarnik.

  • flames2015

    So finally, we can all agree now that Neal is a hundred percent trash. No more excuses that he’s tired from two previous cup finals and that he’s saving his best for playoffs. He’s crap.

    • Dougiefred

      Have always been reluctant to pile on anyone until now, agree Neal is totally useless.
      Guess the ” I just got 5 mil plus for the next 5 years” I won’t have to work for the rest of my life moment finished him off.

    • Off the wall

      3 reasons why he shouldn’t be dressed for game 5.

      1. See above
      2. He gets a stick in the face, the whistle had blown. A scrum ensues. Instead of going over to help his teammates, he goes to the bench.!

      3. He was clean shaven to start the playoffs, while others are trying to grow facial hair. Such a team player!

      • The GREAT WW

        Number 2: I saw that too.
        All of a sudden there were only 4 Flames jerseys in the pile…..

        Neal is garbage.
        I had high hopes when he was signed, but when I saw him skate for the first time I knew we made a huge mistake; skates like Jagr with the engagement of Brouwer….

        WW

      • Dougiefred

        Can’t blame him for not growing a beard. In my beard growing winters don’t know how many bars of soap I used up to lather it so I didn’t scratch my face off. Would take about 6 weeks to change from wire to hair.

  • Budgie

    I would like to see Calgary win the next game for Smith, he was criticized often during the season but he has proven to be a huge wall in net, resembling an octopus at times. When the next one-three in a row is a tall order. Backlunds penalty was a weak call, it looked like Backlund’s stick didn’t touch MacKinnon from the angle on NBC coverage.
    Calgary would likely have won if it wasn’t for that call. It reminded me of Kerry Fraser calling a penalty on Calgary against Tampa in 2004 with one minute left, goalie pulled, and Leopold just hit the post. Calgary came from behind every game, they were about to tie Tampa for overtime and a chance at the cup-Tweet-there is Fraser with his arm up calling someone for slashing in the scrum in front of Tampa’s net. Worst call ever made, put away the whistle used to be the rule-don’t let the ref decide a crucial game-that has changed, and not for the good.

    • The Beej

      I was wondering when someone was going to bring that up. He is playing great. Of course the price would have been Valimaki and a first… so we would lose Valimaki and not be able to resign Stone. Does having Stone fix all our problems. Likely no but he would help.

  • jupiter

    There should be 3 bag skates before the next game. This team has always gone too sleep after the coach gives them a break. It always takes them 3 to 4 games to wind it back up.

  • KootenayFlamesFan

    Our PP is also killing us. Could have had a much bigger lead with a decent one. I think the fix is to put Johnny on the RW and Lindholm on LW. Lindholm has an awesome one timer and it might make them look for more cross-crease passes rather than playing the perimeter.

  • Luter 1

    Notice a lot less comments from people that enjoyed the regular season ice capades but ridiculed anyone talking about the softness of this team. Every time Is was brought up the comment was always the same “How many goals can he score, he’s just a face puncher.” Well our talented little guys are basically getting run out of the rink and softees like Neal, Brodie and unfortunately Jankowski (who I had hope for) should not in the lineup. Clean house and bring in some grit – Frolik soft as pudding, Mony looks useless and scared, Johnny scared. Can you honestly tell me we would be playing this chickens$!t style with a Reaves in our lineup. In the meantime he’s standing in front of the net on the Knights number one power play.
    C minus to both Tre and Peters on a team not even remotely built to win in the playoffs.
    On a positive note, Bennett, Mang playing like Warriors, Valimaki and Anderson better than 80 % of the vets so we have some young guys with heart. Frolik out, Dube in and the youngsters will look good next year, it’s the vets that are a complete disappointment other than Smith who has been remarkable.

    • Captain Ron

      I agree with much of what you said but if you think Reaves is the difference between us winning or losing right now then I think you are mistaken. I don’t dislike Reaves but we are in need of a lot more than that one change. There are several spots to be filled and he would make little difference right now.

      • Luter 1

        No a Reaves alone isn’t the answer but him instead of Neal would have made a hell of a difference. I pushed for softees like Brodie and Frolik to be also traded for some grit. We are always reactionary instead of being the aggressor. People who couldn’t see this coming from how we played in some tougher games weren’t paying attention. Just didn’t see it coming to this extent with Johnny, Mony and Brodie. Lindholm taking some heat on FN but I think he has played very gritty, just has two guys on his line more worried about future 7 million dollar years than these playoffs. Jeez Johnny, what the hell did you expect ( the refs aren’t helping- brutal high hook with zebra standing right there). On the other hand no one has touched McKinnon – that’s on Peters.

    • Toma41

      They tried to sign Reeves! They flew him in, wined and dined him. He simply didnt want to sign. Why would he? Taxes in Calgary compared to Vegas, Calgary can not compete. Unless you want to play Reeves 7 million a year….

    • Derzie

      The ONLY reason that knuckle draggers rule in the spring is because Bettman & the refs change the rules. It’s a garbage move by a garbage league. Every team that got to the playoffs because of their skill is making an early exit. A farce that the media plays dumb about: ‘what happened in Tampa?’ ‘better watch out for those Islanders’. Gimme a break. There’s a GM search in Edmonton to cover if you looking to do some more pretending that phony things are real. TSN. CBC. Sportsnet. Spineless yes-men to Bettman & the owners’ group.

  • Kevin R

    Sighhhhh……… hate to see us self implode on here like this. Expectations sure can be a biaaatch. Was a hell of a season, was a refreshing/rejuvenating season. If we were the 2nd wildcard & were playing the top seed (kinda like what is happening in reality), we would all be feeling a little less empty & constructively discuss what we need to do to get to the next level. Its so hard to think we were already at that next level to find we arent. I actually believed the 30 year/every 15 year numerology would have given us a magical run this year. NHL parity just popped my dream.

    We arent far off & lots have been learnt from all of this. I think BP should split up the top line for this last game & only reunite them on a PP. But you cant get too critical of staying with what has gotten us the most points we’ve seen our team get in the regular season for a long long time. I wouldnt mind seeing Neal benched Friday but I get it if he’s still in the lineup for one more game. Scream all you want but this is something that will need to be addressed in the summer.

    Like Jobu, I will get into the future once we throw dirt on this post season.
    But to bait a few of the kablooey advocates was reading perhaps Malkin is open to moving out of
    Pitt to become the #1 centre & be the franchise guy. 32 years old at 9.5 mill makes me cringe though lol.

    • Captain Ron

      Well at least with Malkin we could see what a real first line center looks like for a year or two……..
      Not that I’m necessarily advocating doing such a thing……

      • Kevin R

        Yeah me too. It’s weird, either Colorado have an amazing forecheck & one of the top proficient teams at pinching & knocking down clearing attempts or the team is reverting to the GG Chinese drills of panic in our zone. I saw signs of last year in our zone, especially in game 3 & in last nights 3rd period.

        One thing is for sure, the rules are sure different in the regular season versus the playoffs. It must be what the league wants, but when top seeds get regularly punted out in the first rounds, this just isnt a coincidence.

  • Sterls

    My thought on the series so far.

    A lot of this is how dominate the Av’s top line is, and the shear amount they are playing. Aside from game 3, when they had the game in the bag early that top line is playing similar minutes to most teams top D-pairing. In game one Mackinnon and Landeskog logged 25 min each, more than even Barrie, and every game after they are over the boards far more frequently than is normal for a top line. They are by far the most effective line in the series and it does three things to Calgary’s ability to compete.

    First, it negates Calgary’s depth somewhat. Why? because the top line is playing almost as many minutes as a 1st and 4th line combined. It’s like they have artificially deepened their team by leaning so heavily on that threesome.

    Second, because they seem to dominate every time they are on the ice, Calgary can’t get any sustained pressure. The advantage of Calgary’s depth was that they could send wave after wave of attack and get the other team off balance, but with the Av’s top line disrupting that virtually every other shift Calgary can’t get any momentum.

    Third, the team is in a constant state of panic recovery. That top line has been so good that every time they are on the ice it is a full on assault, this causes panic that impacts our players ability to play their way. I know how tense I was last night watching that game, I can only imagine how the players on the ice trying to defend against that last night must have felt. It takes a moment for the panic to subside after a close call, which has to impact a players ability to switch from defense to offense. Couple that with the Av’s relentless pressing, and you have a bunch of players with stress addled minds trying to make plays with less time and space then they are used to. It’s not a wonder they can’t get any thing going.

    This is still a good team, they just don’t have an answer to that line and The Av’s coach knows it and he is exploiting that weakness to it’s extreme. Eventually he will burn them out, but that isn’t going to happen this round… so Calgary has to figure out a way to neutralize them. How do they do that… I have no idea, but I’m hoping desperately they come up with something.

    • The Penn

      I can’t give up on our team. it’s not in my DNA. But for sh t sake they have to sit the passengers. No effort should equal No ice time.
      3 in a row is possible

      GFG

    • Kevin R

      Reminds me of that old Star Trek episode where that small warship that was built to attack only & all power to its weapons almost took down the Enterprise lol. Either they are in far superior condition to our players or we just havent devised the counter to this. You would think if we could get it to O/T they would have been spent but we are playing too softly. I would think you need to punish these guys, over & over for every inch. Hit them, cross check them, slash them & pin them against the boards to use energy to just get away from you & back in the play every shift you can. Make them use that much more energy every shift. But alas, I dont think we have the personnel to accomplish that.

  • ville de champignons

    My takeaways from the game were 1. Colorado’s D just dominated, outclassed the Flames, kept us outside, outskated and outworked our scorers… 2. MacKinnon. ‘Nuf said… 3. Smith. Outstanding effort. Feel really bad for him… 4. Flames are not likely coming back from this. Clearly NOT a playoff team this year. Need a couple of signings to make a serious run in 2020.

  • Chucky

    One thing that needs to be said is that there is no way Smith should be resigned. I see the great saves and the exciting play. But a lot of those great saves are a direct result of poorly playing the puck of absolutely pitful rebound control. Regardless of how this season ends they need a goaltender who does not handcuff the defense with last second passes, rebounds directed to closing forwards and refusal or inability to smother the puck in close to the crease play.

  • snotss

    calgary flames are a playoff joke…a joke that keeps on appearing every playoff they make….yes a good regular season does not mean success in the playoffs the flames are a prime example of a choking team that just can’t handle the pressure…i don’t have an answer as to why but it just keeps on happening…look at the two third period collapses…it rings of a choke job big time…they also pissed a way a great goal tending performance during this round..choke….i know i’ll get roasted for this but take a look at flames playoff record it is horrible since 2004 when they lost the cup… it has been terrible since… starting after they won the cup in 89 they lost in the first round 10 different years. wow. i’m a devoted flame fan since they came to cow town but man this team is hard to pull for when they choke as often as they do…*sigh*

  • Derzie

    The ONLY reason that knuckle draggers rule in the spring is because Bettman & the refs change the rules. It’s a garbage move by a garbage league. Every team that got to the playoffs because of their skill is making an early exit. A farce that the media plays dumb about: ‘what happened in Tampa?’ ‘better watch out for those Islanders’. Gimme a break. There’s a GM search in Edmonton to cover if you looking to do some more pretending that phony things are real. TSN. CBC. Sportsnet. Spineless yes-men to Bettman & the owners’ group.