Since they’ve already dug the hole, the Calgary Flames figure they might as well see about planting a seed.
Roughly 12 hours after a crushing 5-4 overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks that pushed them to the brink of elimination, the Flames weren’t offering much in the way of bold declarations. Their focus goes no further than Thursday’s Game 4, when they hope to sow at least a grain of doubt in the Ducks.
“Right now, we have nothing to lose,” said Matthew Tkachuk, whose team blew a 4-1 lead in Game 3 to fall behind 0-3 in the series. “We’re going to try to do everything in our power and just try to make them a little nervous over there.
“I think they’re a team that doesn’t want to be embarrassed by a team that’s down 3-0. They have some pressure on them as well.”
While the assumption is Brian Elliott will get the call in goal for that do-or-die game, it’s worth noting coach Glen Gulutzan did not immediately settle the issue when asked if Elliott — who struggled in Game 3 and early in Game 2 — was definitely getting the tap.
“We haven’t decided what we’re going to do,” said Gulutzan, noting that coaches will talk more this afternoon and let the goalies know what’s up by this evening.
Elliott, who took responsibility for his poor play on Monday night, said he definitely wants a shot at redemption and has worked to turn the page on a miserable outing. He was one of the few Flames who took part in an optional skate on Tuesday, saying he just wanted to get out there and feel some pucks.
“You have to move on and we have to focus on this next game coming up,” Elliott said.
While Elliott’s post-season history is somewhat spotty, he did post a .921 save percentage in 18 playoff games with the St. Louis Blues last spring. He also got untracked after a disastrous start to his Calgary career, going 23-6-2 with a .923 save percentage from just before Christmas through the end of March.
“Moose has been great for us,” said captain Mark Giordano. “He’s the reason we’re in the playoffs.”
Staying there will require some adjustments from the Flames, but it’s not as though the team has been hopelessly outclassed by the Ducks. You don’t have to be a complete Calgary apologist to note the Flames likely deserve a better reality than what they’ve got. Certainly, the club has done its share of foot-shooting, from a brutal line change in Game 1 that led to a momentum-swinging Anaheim goal, to some boneheaded penalties during the games in California, to taking their foot off the pedal in Game 3 instead of pushing back as Anaheim started to close the gap.
But it’s also hard to ignore the fact that, whenever a puck has bounced off a body then gone directly into the net guarded by that body’s goalie, Calgary has constantly been on the wrong end of the equation. The shot attempts at five-on-five are essentially even through three outings, but the savvy Anaheim boys have done a better job of making theirs count — especially at critical moments.
“In our opinion, 3-0 is not the way it should be right now, but it is,” Giordano said. “They’ve been better at the momentum swings in the key moments; they’ve had big-time goals.”
Teams have emerged from 0-3 holes before, but the fact many fans can name them off the top of their head is a bad harbinger for Calgary. (Just in case: 1942 Leafs, 1975 Islanders, 2010 Flyers, 2014 Kings.)
“We would have hope [even if it had] never been done before,” said Tkachuk, whose team has already shown ample resilience this season.
The Flames certainly won’t catch Anaheim off guard if they come blazing out of the gate on Thursday. That’s what coach Randy Carlyle expects given the desperate nature of the opponent and the fact it will once again be in front of a ravenous home crowd. Carlyle, of course, knows a thing or two about comebacks, having presided over a Toronto Maple Leafs team that stormed back from a 3-1 series deficit against a favoured Boston Bruins squad in 2013, only to see the Bs wipe out a 4-1 disadvantage in Game 7 to win on home ice.
“I don’t think there’s a better example of what can happen in sports than what happened [in Game 3],” Carlyle said of Anaheim’s comeback.
That’s why, if you’re Calgary, you continue to cling to every kernel of hope.