Sometimes you have to soldier on in less than ideal situations. The Calgary Flames headed into San Jose on Thursday night to face the Sharks in the midst of rapid-fire west coast road trip. They were missing some key bodies. They were facing a rested team.
But the Flames played battled their way through it, gutting out a 4-2 victory over the Sharks to run their winning streak on their current road trip to three games.
The opening period was pretty even, with the Flames executing a little better than the Sharks at five-on-five and carrying play a bit more as a result.
The Flames opened the scoring midway through the first period. Timo Meier mishandled a bad pass at the Sharks blueline, and there was a bit of general confusion regarding where the puck was supposed to go. Matthew Tkachuk yoinked the puck, drove into the slot, and beat James Reimer high glove-side to give the Flames a 1-0 lead.
The Sharks evened things up with just over five minutes left in the period, though. They executed a nice puck pursuit play in the Flames zone and a few smart passes gave Jaycob Megna the point at the slot. He flung the puck towards the net-front area, where it bonked off Nick Bonino’s turned skate and past Daniel Vladar to tie things up at 1-1. (The Flames defenders played it well, but Bonino made a smart play with his skate to redirect it.)
But in the last minute of the first period, a smart individual effort by Trevor Lewis gave the Flames the lead again. Lewis took a pass from Rasmus Andersson and saw a path to the net, so he headed there. He cut to the net and jammed the puck into the small open space between the post and Reimer’s last pad… and it went in, giving the Flames a 2-1 lead.
Shots were 16-12 Flames (13-8 Flames at five-on-five) and scoring chances 12-6 Flames in the first period.
The second period was a bit more even, with the Sharks getting some smart looks but Vladar standing tall and making some nice saves.
The Flames added to their lead midway through the second. A smart neutral zone pass by Johnny Gaudreau sent Tkachuk into the Sharks zone. He drove the net, then sent a drop pass to Elias Lindholm. Lindholm’s shot beat Reimer glove-side and gave the Flames a 3-1 lead.
Shots were 15-11 Flames (12-12 at five-on-five) and scoring chances 13-10 Sharks in the second period.
The Sharks pressed early in the third period and drew a penalty. Just as Noah Hanifin’s penalty was expiring, a bad angle shot by Meier glanced off Logan Couture’s leg and beat Vladar to cut the Flames’ lead to 3-2.
James Reimer left the game in favour of Kaapo Kahkonen midway through the third period after Couture crashed into Reimer in a net-front scramble, trying to prevent Blake Coleman from getting a scoring chance.
The Sharks pulled Kahkonen late for the extra attacker, but Lindholm added an empty-netter to give the Flames a 4-2 victory.
Shots were 10-10 (9-8 Sharks at five-on-five) and scoring chances 6-5 Flames in the third period.
Why the Flames won
This was a Very Scheduled Loss. The Flames were playing on back-to-back nights (and for the third time in four nights) with travel. They had to fly into the Oakland airport due to an 11:30 p.m. PT curfew at the airport in San Jose, resulting in a half-hour bus ride down to their hotel. They were missing a bunch of key regular players for various injury and illness reasons. They were playing their backup goalie for the first time in eight games.
The Flames had oodles of excuses baked into his game, and they still managed to battle, scrape and execute at key moments. This wasn’t a perfect game, but it was a really good road game, especially given the circumstances.
The Flames were missing a bunch of regulars for this one, so let’s give praise here to the one remaining regular defensive pairing that Darryl Sutter had left: Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson. They played a ton of hockey, got all the tough match-ups so that the coaching staff could ease Connor Mackey and Juuso Valimaki into things, and the top pair was generally quite good overall.
The turning point
Some nice execution by the top line on some smart passes led to Lindholm’s (at the time) insurance goal in the second period. It ended up being a really valuable goal for the Flames.
The honourable mention here goes to the Flames’ penalty kill in the third period with the game at 3-2: the Flames kept the Sharks from gaining much momentum from that advantage, and that kill helped them capture the victory.
Percentage stats are 5v5 and via Natural Stat Trick. Game score via Hockey Stat Cards.
This and that
The Flames were without Sean Monahan, Oliver Kylington, Erik Gudbranson, Nikita Zadorov, Calle Jarnkrok and Adam Ruzicka for this game. (It’s unclear who’s injured aside from Monahan and Kylington, but Postmedia’s Wes Gilbertson tweeted during warm-up that the team’s dealing with a non-COVID illness and some bumps (and presumably also bruises).
The defensive pairings in this game: Hanifin/Andersson, Mackey/Tanev and Valimaki/Stone.
Gaudreau had two assists in this game to tie his career high with 99 points on the season.
The Flames (43-19-9) continue their trip up the coast. They’re off to the Emerald City! They visit the Seattle Kraken on Saturday night. It’s an early one: a 5 p.m. MT start on Hockey Night in Canada.
Via Pat Steinberg’s math: As of this writing, the Flames’ magic number to clinch a playoff berth is now 4 – any combination of 4 Flames wins or Vegas losses clinches a post-season spot for Calgary. (It’s 7.5 Flames wins and/or Edmonton losses to clinch the Pacific Division crown.)
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