CALGARY – The pre-game promise from rink announcer Beesley was that there would be fireworks after the game.
The Calgary Flames apparently couldn’t wait that long.
No apologies necessary, as one of the league’s most potent offences simply wanted to end its breakthrough year with a bang.
Make that, another bang
An 8-5 win over the division-rival San Jose Sharks put the Flames atop the Pacific Division with their league-leading fifth game of the year scoring more than seven goals.
The last time the Flames had that many seven-goal games was in 1993-94 when goalies still wore small, weighted pillows on their legs and games routinely featured double digits in snipes.
Yet, early in the third period it was actually a tight game, with the Flames leading 5-4 largely because of two early goals from Mikael Backlund and stellar netminding from David Rittich.
By night’s end, Sean Monahan had a career-high five points (all assists), Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau had four apiece (two goals and two assists) and Elias Lindholm had three points including his career-best 18th goal of the season.
Quite the numbers these lads have been piecing together as the NHL’s third-leading scoring team in the NHL.
Hard to believe the Flames finished 26th in scoring last year, prompting GM Brad Treliving to concentrate his summer moves on adding depth offensively.
It has worked, as the Flames have enjoyed plenty of nights like Monday when the top line alone accounted for 12 points.
“Obviously a game for first place, in the Saddledome, in Calgary for New Year’s Eve – the fans were into the game, we were into the game – a big win,” said Gaudreau, who actually had an assist taken away, preventing him from his first five-point night.
“A great night for our team. A lot of happy faces – the team won a big game against a big team.”
Even James Neal got in on the action with his first goal in 25 games, albeit via a net-front redirection off his shin pad that had him grinning ear to ear.
The jubilant crowd gave him a rousing ovation for his fourth goal of the year, hoping it might kickstart a scoring spree for the free agent signing making $5.75 million annually.
While all the talk in the Flames room was how they were able to pull away from the charging Sharks in the third, the chatter down the hall revolved around the on-ice fireworks that ended the game.
The Sharks were angry Tkachuk hit Erik Karlsson high late in the night, causing bleeding.
Sam Bennett was steamed he’d been hit in the groin by goalie Aaron Dell.
It was a late hit in the final minute by an emotional Bennett on an unsuspecting Radim Simek, followed immediately by a Bennett-Barclay Goodrow fight, that had the Sharks really simmering. And the crowd rockin’.
“Predatory,” said Sharks coach Pete DeBoer of a clean, hard hit that will be looked at by the league as it was clearly late.
“It’s kind of gutless at the end,” added Joe Pavelski.
“It’s one of those plays you don’t really probably expect. Goody did a good job answering the bell.”
Evander Kane tried ringing the bell first, by jumping Tkachuk late in a frustrating loss that ended his night.
“He hits our best defenceman high in the face, Erik Karlsson’s bleeding,” said Kane of a game that was 5-4 Flames early in the third.
“At that point in the game it was close. And then there’s a lot of chatter. The game’s changed a lot from when I came in 10 years ago. There wouldn’t be as much talk. There’d be a little more action. I wanted to kind of make sure there was a little bit more action than just talk.
“I saw the replay (of the Bennett hit). Boy, it’s funny. Like I said, there’s a lot of talk and then I leave the game and guys get a little taller out there.”
Proving no good deed goes unpunished, poor ol’ Dell was lit up for all eight goals in front of family and friends like fellow-Airdrie resident Ryan Straschnitzki who was his guest for the game.
Straschnitzki is a Humboldt Broncos survivor whose home is being renovated by do-gooders like Dell’s father to accommodate the wheelchair he needs to get around.
A large chunk of the 27 shots Dell faced were dangerous ones… and some fluky ones.
“I mean, that might’ve been the most bad luck I’ve seen in one game,” said Dell, who also had Flames goal disallowed following contact by Bennett.
“Even their harmless shots ended up going off stuff and right in the net. Crazy, all-round game.”
Although Backlund’s early heroics earned him the team’s coveted police hat, he suggested Rittich was perhaps the game’s first star.
“He was probably our best player even though we scored lots,” said Backlund.
“I think Ritter kept us in a few times, made some big highlight-reel saves, especially in the first. It was a tight game and then in the third it exploded. I’m impressed with the team. We found ways to score goals.
“Our top line is driving the bus but I think a lot of guys chipped in today and that’s big too.”