ANAHEIM — By the time the Calgary Flames had reached the end of their ride, they were hanging off the side of the horse, clinging to the game for dear life.
Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry opened the overtime session with shots at goaltender Karri Ramo. Then Kyle Palmieri had a clean look through a screen from 20 feet out, which Ramo blockered away. Then Jakob Silfverberg jammed the puck through the crease, and the rebound went to Ryan Kesler, who rifled it off the post.
Finally, Getzlaf and Perry again, and by the time Perry was getting off Anaheim’s seventh overtime shot on goal in just 2:26 — against zero shots for Calgary —it became clear that the naysayers have been right all along.
The Calgary Flames truly could not sustain this.
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From his knees, Perry swiped home the game-winner just 2:26 into overtime, winning the game 3-2, the series 4-1, and ending one of the great season-long runs that we’ve seen from a Canadian team in the National Hockey League.
Unsustainable? How about unforgettable?
“They deserve it,” said Flames winger Joe Colborne, with a nod to the Ducks. “They were hard to play against, a big strong team that you need to win in the Western Conference.
"We gave our best. We left it out there. It just wasn’t good enough.”
“That passion in Calgary… I’ve never felt that, having the whole city behind you like that," said winger David Jones. "Everyone in this room, we wanted to just give our fans one more game. It hurts, when you lose like that.”
This was, alas, inevitable. That Calgary, a team many picked to finish 29th when the season began, was even playing meaningful games in March would have been heresy, had you predicted it back in October.
But here they were, not only in the playoffs but in a Western Conference semi-final against a legitimate Stanley Cup contender that has done nothing but pay its playoff dues, losing out in Game 7 on home ice in each of the last two springs. The inherent advantages in experience were on display nightly in this series -- not to mention the edge the Ducks held in size and skill.
In Sunday’s finale, Kesler won 18 of the 22 faceoffs he took, with Anaheim winning 62% of the draws in total. The shots finished at 47-19 for Anaheim, and up in the press box two or three Ducks defenceman watched in street clothes, each of whom would have been in Calgary’s Top 6 on any given night.
Anaheim had better players and more of them, and finally, the scales became too lopsided even for the Flames' immense heart to keep them level.
What did Anaheim head coach Bruce Boudreau feel when that overtime puck lit the lamp?
“Relief,” said Boudreau, who makes it past Round 2 for the first time in eight seasons as an NHL head coach, split between Washington and Anaheim. His job was on the line here, and now he’ll test the next level against the mighty Chicago Blackhawks in the Conference Final.
“I thought I was pretty calm the whole third period and into overtime,” Boudreau said. “Then (Francois Beauchemin) missed a chance and I jumped a solid four inches. I thought, ‘Maybe I’m not so calm.’ I thought it was one of those games where you press and you press and you press, them they get a break and score the goal.”
When it ended, Perry was lying on top of Ramo, in a crease full of battling, wrasslin’ Flames and Ducks.
“Me and Pers were just jamming at it,” said giant winger Patrick Maroon. “Those are the goals that you’re going to score in overtime.”
Ramo complained, but the goal stood. Really, with the OT shots at 7-0, and the ice tilted the way it was, everyone in the building was of the mind that Calgary’s nine lives had been used up. Finally.
“It’s over. It’s pointless what I think,” said Ramo when asked if he had any issues with the goal. “They played on the border (the edge), a gritty team. They deserved it. It doesn’t matter what I think.
“That first game, we got run over. But we regrouped, and kept playing better, and better… We gave everything. Right now, it’s really empty.”
The praise from down the hall was already rolling in however, before the last red and gold equipment bag had been packed and loaded on the truck.
“They’re a good team. They’ve got a lot of good years in front of them,” said Kesler. “That wasn’t an option going back up there. We knew what we had to do.”
And they did it, in five games. But not without a few bruises to ice down this week, as the Ducks await the Blackhawks opener here at the Honda Center somewhere nearer the weekend.
The Flames always left a mark on their opponents this season, and consistently warmed the hearts of hockey fans in Calgary.
They didn’t win, but they surely didn’t lose in the big picture. They have an identity, a fantastic, charismatic coach in Bob Hartley, and as many budding stars as the team up the road in Alberta.
After years of anonymity, the Flames are back. What a pleasure it is to say that, may we add?