EDMONTON — When this Calgary Flames ride finally ends, whether it is with a Stanley Cup parade or a ninth place finish, we will look back over the season and be able to count Bob Hartley’s wrong calls on one hand.
Saturday morning in Edmonton, prized prospect Sam Bennett took the morning skate with the Flames, and nobody would have blamed the Calgary’s head coach if he debuted the rookie against the hapless Oilers. The player who likely would have come out of the Flames lineup, Markus Granlund, had only one NHL goal in 2015. What was there to lose?
But Hartley went with his gut, played Granlund instead of Bennett, and Granlund scored twice in a 4-0 Flames win.
Of course he did. These are the Flames remember?
"We debated it this afternoon," Hartley said of playing Bennett. "But we thought that we had guys who deserve to be in the lineup."
It is vintage Flames: No one gets a free ride, or a free spot in the lineup. Not even a first-rounder like Bennett.
The reward for that style of organizational thinking? Granlund delivers the first two-goal game of his career with linemate Josh Jooris’ dogged work on the forecheck simply too much for the Oilers defence.
"Michael Ferland, Granny and Josh Jooris (two assists), they gave us quite a game," Hartley said. "They were buzzing around the net all night. Here’s three kids who were not with us from the start of the year … and they played a big part in tonight’s win."
The win was Calgary’s 22nd road victory of the season, tying a team record last set in 1988-89, the year the Flames won their lone Stanley Cup. They played a sluggish opening 30 minutes, but Jonas Hiller gave the Flames leeway to turn it up in the back half and win easily over Edmonton, sweeping the season series. The Oilers have 23 wins in total, just one more the Calgary’s road total.
Karri Ramo started the game in goal but left at the 58-second mark of the opening period with an apparent left leg injury. Hiller walked in cold, stoned Jordan Eberle, and the puck went down to the other end where Joe Colborne opened the scoring just 1:59 into the game. That’s all Calgary needed against Edmonton, losers for the 43rd time this season.
"Hills came in and did a great job. Big saves early," said centre Matt Stajan. "(The Oilers) were playing fearless, holding on to the puck, making plays in the offensive zone. They had a lot of zone time early, but we got the saves when we needed them, and got the timely goals."
Dennis Wideman added a goal to go with two assists, just another in a long list of Flames having career seasons. Wideman’s 52 points and 15 goals are both career highs. It was a rare pointless night for the Flames’ top line of Sean Monahan, Jiri Hudler and Johnny Gaudreau, with only Monahan counting an assist. Calgary’s depth won this one, especially in goal, where Hiller stepped off the bench to record the rare shared shutout with Ramo.
This goes down as the longest relief appearance in a shared shutout in NHL history, with Ramo getting half the shutout despite playing 58 seconds and not facing a single shot; just another crazy footnote in a wild Flames season.
"Obviously it’s a lower body (injury). He’s day-to-day," Hartley said. "At the same time, Jonas Hiller came in, and what a clutch performance. As soon as he got in he made three, four saves in a row. That was the turning point in the game, even though it was real early. He was real strong for us."
Calgary worked as hard as they had to finish the season sweep of lowly Edmonton, and now move on to more important foes, their third-place standing in the Pacific Division fully intact, now just two points behind second place Vancouver.
Calgary hosts Arizona on Tuesday, and then Los Angeles on Thursday in a huge game. They close their season out next Saturday afternoon in Winnipeg, a tilt that could see the loser going home.
"I’m pretty amazed with our group," Hartley said. "I don’t sense any nervousness. The guys are having fun, they’re on the job. We’re clutch right now. It seems like whenever we need a big play, we get a big play."