CALGARY — The scout looked down from the press box, as Joe Colborne maintained a puck in the offensive zone, working back and forth along the wall behind the net like the budding power forward that this Toronto Maple Leafs cast-off has become.
“Well, looks like Joe Colborne has finally figured out how to play the game,” said the scout, typically dour. It was, in fact, a high compliment, and extended to Colborne’s all-around game, which has emerged this spring as a genuine commodity here in Calgary.
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He scores, he hits, he protects the puck, and as the coaches have been telling this 6-foot-4 forward since ever he can recall, he’s playing the game with a physical edge. Alas, that comes with a risk, and on this night, Colborne learned a lesson that he will never forget.
It was Colborne who received the double minor for high-sticking Anaheim defenceman Francois Beauchemin at the 20:00 mark of Period 2, and it was he who watched from the sin bin as Matt Beleskey scored the winning goal on that same powerplay, 1:11 into the third.
“Frustrating,” Colborne said. “Just trying to (walk) that line of being physical. I’m not going to comment on whether I liked (the call) or not, but that’s on me. I definitely let the boys down there.”
The Flames had plenty of time to even the score, including a squandered 56-second 5-on-3 later in the period. But it was that break that Anaheim had not been forced to work for or earn in any manner that stings the most, as the Ducks won 4-2 and now go home with a 3-1 series lead, licking their collective bills at the thought of wrapping this series up on Sunday.
“I don’t think the whistle had gone yet,” Colborne said. “He went to protect himself, got his hands up and kind of knocked my hands up too. I feel like I let the guys down.”
“Colborne crosschecked me in the face,” corrected Beauchemin. “Luckily for us the referee was right there to see it and call a four-minute penalty.”
Poor Colborne. He’s been so good for Calgary; the goat horns do not suit him at all.
“He’s been great for us all playoffs,” said teammate Matt Stajan. “If you watch the play, it was a bad break. He was going to hit the guy and the guy lifted his stick and it rode up him. I don't know how it cut him, it was more of a scratch if you ask me, but that's hockey.
“I take it on our penalty killers and myself more so,” Stajan added. “We have to kill that off for him.”
Beauchemin was seen post-game with more of an abrasion above his lip than an all-out laceration. But it must also be said that Anaheim scored on the first of the two minor penalties, and not the second. And no one would argue that Colborne did not deserve at least the first high-sticking minor.
And, again, Calgary had plenty of redemption time on that 5-on-3, and was tepid at best.
“Pretty much hell sitting in the box at that point. You’re praying really,” said Ducks winger Andrew Cogliano, who took the second minor while on the PK. “I’ve got to owe my teammates. That was a perfect kill basically for a 5-on-3. That could have been the game right there.”
Said Flames defenceman Dennis Wideman: “We had a 50-second 5-on-3. We’ve got to score there. We’ve got to make a play.”
Alas, as competitive as Calgary has become after scoring only once in Games 1 and 2 combined — and being blown out 6-1 in the series opener — it was the Ducks who took care of business, getting their split in Southern Alberta. The series, as they say, isn’t truly ‘on’ until the road team wins, and now the Flames have to find a way to win at the Honda Center for the first time since 2006.
And now back to Anaheim, where the last time Calgary won, Willi Plett scored the winner.
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Despite holding the Ducks’ big line to just the empty-netter by Patrick Maroon, Calgary still lost, which hurts. They truly are in somewhat of a pickle now, a position that has generally produced their best hockey this season.
“I know that everyone who’s going to get on that plane (Saturday) knows we can win Game 5 and force a Game 6,” Flames coach Bob Hartley said. “It’s a tough loss tonight, we’re going to swallow it, and tomorrow we’ll be back at work.”
The shots were equal (29-27 Anaheim), the faceoffs were split down the middle, and it was hard to say which team really took a bigger bite of this game through its entirety.
What we do know, however, is that the favored Ducks are well in control now, heading home with a healthy 3-1 series lead. Calgary is learning, like Colborne, to play at this time of year.
They are down to their last lesson now. Then school’s out for the summer.