‘Johnny Justice’ and the Flames that never quit

Johnny Gaudreau scored the tying goal with less than 30 seconds to go and Mikael Backlund notched the overtime winner as the Calgary Flames defeated the Anaheim Ducks 4-3 on Tuesday night.

CALGARY — You laughed, you folks outside the 403 area code, when we wrote after Game 1 that the Flames should not be dismissed. Then, you agreed, when the same stooge (cough, cough…) wrote a piece about how these Flames are just too small, and they can’t win enough battles to beat mighty Anaheim.

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So, what say you now, non-believer? A 4-3 overtime win, complete with late game heroics from the kid they’re calling Johnny Justice?

The NDP are running Alberta, and the Flames won this game. This is Frankenstein stuff, people.

Somebody scream, “It’s alive!”

“I think that’s pretty much been our story all year: come from behind and score late and get the job done late,” said burly, bearded winger Brandon Bollig. “It’s awesome. I think that was as close to a do or die game for us as it gets.”

Here are all the things that had to happen — in succession — for Calgary to win this game:

1. A 3-2 Flames deficit with 2:14 to play, of course.
2. Coincidental minors that cause a 4-on-4.
3. A puck that bounced high enough in the air that Anaheim defenceman Sami Vatanen was enticed to bat at it, smacking it over the glass for a delay of game penalty. Suddenly, Karri Ramo is on the bench and Calgary has an extended 5-on-3.

If the Hockey Gods were toying with the Calgary Flames when they denied them a goal with 6:17 to play, on a no-goal that was identical to the infamous Martin Gelinas-Nikolai Khabibulin no-goal from the 2004 Stanley Cup final, then those same Gods hung around to see the finish of Game 3 Tuesday night.

4. Johnny Gaudreau walked off the wall and, rather than setting up a pretty 5-on-3 play, sniped the tying goal over Frederik Andersen’s shoulder with 20 seconds to play.

5. Then Michael Backlund — a Flames first-round pick back in 2007 — scores the first NHL playoff goal of his life as the extra attacker who hopped the boards on a delayed penalty.

If the two would not have exchanged glances in the second before he jumped, Joe Colborne was ready to go in Backlund’s place.

All of those things happened. And it took every one of them to set the plate for a 4-3 Flames win, and turn this into a series.

Oh, yes. One more thing: Goaltender Karri Ramo was on the bench for half of Calgary’s goals.

“It’s 2-1. We weren’t planning on winning 16 straight games,” Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said of his club’s first playoff loss this spring. “We knew it was going to be a tough series, a tough battle.”

“It’s pretty incredible. Different guys stepping up,” gushed Joe Colborne. “We’ve been playing too hard to not get rewarded.”

With another very strong playoff outing, Colborne has officially become ‘Joe Colborne, the player the Toronto Maple Leafs foolishly traded away for a fourth round draft pick.’ It is the pathway to the basement to deal away guys like this for mid-round draft picks, as the lanky winger/centre breathed life into the game with his tying goal in Period 2, a clutch breakaway goal off a rare miscue by Anaheim defensive prodigy Hampus Lindholm.

This game was a Bob Cole Special. Everything was happening.

For about the first eight minutes it looked like the Flames could perhaps parlay the emotion of home ice into a series-changing force. They scored first, Bollig just 2:07 into the game, and were coming in waves.

But with emotion comes the abandonment of structure, and as the Flames began to run amok across the 200-by-85-foot sheet, the Ducks methodically began to take the game back. The turnovers began to return, and so too did Anaheim’s physical dominance.

Soon, the Ducks giant first line was banging bodies and clearing space in the Flames zone, and extra large left-winger Patrick Maroon banged in a perfect Ryan Getzlaf pass. Then Getzlaf rag-dolled TJ Brodie in the corner and stole the puck — a GIF that could sum up the series to this point — and within seconds Corey Perry was depositing his 14th playoff point in seven games this spring.

With that goal Perry passed Teemu Selanne, moving into second place on Anaheim’s all-time playoff points list with 70 points in 81games. Only Getzlaf’s 86 points in 88 games ranks higher.

But this game will be remembered for two things: the incredibly similar non-goal to 2004, and a comeback that both saved the Flames season, and reminded us that they can do this. Because they have all year.

“There are no words anymore to talk about this group. They never quit. They keep believing,” head coach Bob Hartley said. “Great show of character, great show of grit.”

“When did Johnny score?” Backlund asked. “Twenty seconds left? But we have a motto that says, ‘Never quit.’ That’s what we believe in.”

And you might as well believe in it too. Because every time you stop thinking Calgary can do something, they do it, and you end up looking like a fool.

We speak from experience.