To a man, the Calgary Flames must feel as though they left at least one win on the table in Anaheim, where the club dropped a pair of 3-2 games to open its series with the Ducks. You could argue, though, that being forced to play catch-up simply means Calgary is now in its comfort zone.
Whether it was a rotten opening to the regular season or now, an 0-2 stumble to start the playoffs, the Flames have been eschewing the easy way all year, instead opting to find their best game when the odds get longer. So while it has to be discouraging to lose the way it did on Saturday night when an attempted pass by Ryan Getzlaf took a crazy ricochet off Flames forward Lance Bouma and went in the net, Calgary has a lot of internal strength to draw on.
“We haven’t quit all season,” said defenceman Dougie Hamilton after the Game 2 setback. “We’re going to come out hard at home [in Game 3] and turn the series around.”
In another context, you might be tempted to write that off as a player merely saying what he has to say. But Hamilton and his teammates have set a real precedent when it comes to climbing out of holes and stand a reasonable chance to do so once again when the games matter most.
Merely suggesting the Flames would qualify for the post-season seemed insane on the morning of Nov. 12, when Calgary woke up with a 5-10-1 record and just 11 points on the board. Even the awful Colorado Avalanche had 12 at that time. In fact, the only outfit in the entire league that had posted fewer points than Calgary through that juncture of the season was the Arizona Coyotes with 10 — and they had only played 14 games compared to the Flames’ 16.
Even after it pulling themselves out of that spiral, the Flames went back to wobbling in late January, when a post-season berth was once again in peril. That slide culminated with a 5-1 hammering at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens, prompting coach Glen Gulutzan’s now-famous, “We were pathetic” rant.
The Flames won their next three games and, soon after, went streaking for real, racking up 10 consecutive victories through late February and early March to sew up a playoff invite.
In Games 1 and 2 against Anaheim, the Flames found themselves in first-period deficits. Each time, Calgary clawed back to either tie the game or take the lead in the second frame. While Anaheim was able to wrest things back in both outings, the Flames have shown traces of the same resilience they demonstrated in the regular season when the club, on 12 occasions, emerged victorious in contests it had trailed after 20 minutes. Only the Pittsburgh Penguins (13) posted more wins under the same circumstance.
Now, let’s be careful not to paint the Flames as helpless victims in this series; the current situation is about more than capricious hockey gods messing with Cowtown. The lead Calgary worked so hard to claim in Game 1 was erased on one of the worst five-man line changes you’ll ever see. That same night, Hamilton took three minor penalties, including a retaliatory one late in the third period of a one-goal game after Getzlaf had flattened Flames captain Mark Giordano with a clean hit. In Game 2, it was T.J. Brodie’s turn for poorly timed score-settling, as he cross-checked Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler for a can’t-miss call with less than three minutes to go and his team down a single tally.
After killing that penalty off, the Flames had a number of good looks — including a golden one from in close for Johnny Gaudreau on which the offensive wizard opted for an ill-advised pass instead of smoking a shot — and couldn’t squeeze the puck past Ducks goalie John Gibson.
Add it up and it does feel as though the Flames are owed a break or two.
“We’ve talked about momentum in the series, momentum within a game,” Gulutzan said following Game 2. “They’ve got the bounces and we need to just keep working until we get the bounces, because things can change quickly, momentum can swing.”
Luckily for the coach, his team won’t need much convincing on that notion.