CALGARY — Despite his team’s six-goal outburst, Sam Bennett finished Thursday evening without a goal, an assist or even a view of his team’s monumental comeback.
Yet there he was, after a 6-5 win over Colorado, wearing the Calgary Police Service hat handed out by teammates to the player of the game.
With his team down 4-1 in a game the Flames otherwise seemed to dominate, Bennett took exception to a hellacious second-period hit by Ian Cole on Mark Jankowski that earned the Avs defenceman a game misconduct for charging.
Bennett immediately grabbed the offender and delivered a long series of heavy right hands to the delight of a bench and a crowd standing on their feet.
While Bennett served his 17 minutes of penalties for vigilante justice, the Flames opened the third period with an early power-play goal that kick-started a string of five unanswered goals the crowd ate up.
And Bennett only saw a few of them.
“I was in the training room getting a little work done on my hands and missed (Elias Lindholm’s goal 47 seconds into the third),” chuckled Bennett, sporting a series of scrapes on his nose and both hands. “Then I started to ride the bike and keep my legs loose because I knew I wasn’t going to be out for a bit — we scored another goal there.
Another one I didn’t even see because I was in here changing, and when we scored to tie it, someone came in and yelled that we tied it up.”
On a night when so many could have been painted as heroes, it was universally agreed upon in the room that Bennett’s Beatdown turned the game around. It was almost symbolic of the way Bennett has found ways to contribute outside of the scoresheet.
“He’s a feisty little kid,” smiled Mikael Backlund, whose goal cut a 2-0 Avalanche lead in half early in the second frame.
“He definitely knows how to throw em’ and that gave us momentum. We were down 4-1. That’s a great job for him stepping up for the team and for Janko. It brought a lot of energy into the room for the third. Benny started it for sure.”
Though it appeared two Mike Smith gaffes were going to be the difference in a track meet with one of the league’s speediest teams, it was Sean Monahan’s tip-in five minutes into the third that made it a 4-3 game. James Neal then scored his first meaningful goal of the year when he one-timed a Johnny Gaudreau pass past Semyon Varlamov to tie the affair 4-4.
The play started when Juuso Valimaki stepped up at the blue line for a perfectly-timed hit on Matt Calvert to keep the puck in the zone and send it to Gaudreau.
Mark Giordano got the go-ahead goal three minutes later by jumping into the play with a call for a pass that could be heard in the press box. The fifth Flames goal in 14 minutes was finished by Michael Frolik, thanks to Matthew Tkachuk’s third setup of the night.
Yet, when the smoke cleared on a game that few will forget any time soon, it was Bennett that had most chins wagging, including the coach.
“I thought the turning point was Benny stepping up for a teammate in the second,” said Peters.
“I don’t think Benny gets enough credit for the way he plays, and his skill-set and how tough he is on the puck,” added Neal, whose third goal of the year was the type of snipe that’s made him a perennial 20-goal scorer.
“You couldn’t beat Benny there to get a piece of that guy. His gloves were off quick. It brings a team closer together. It was like, ‘Let’s get going guys.’ We got a big power play goal and Benny was a big part of that.”
The hit on Jankowski came as he was accepting a suicide pass at his own blue line by Noah Hanifin that forced him to keep his head down. It was deemed a charge and game misconduct by the officials, giving the Flames a five-minute power play in the dying minutes of the second.
Jankowski got up quickly to run at his offender, but was beaten there by Bennett. He was then sent to the room to be looked at by trainers, who quickly gave him the green light to return.
“It’s more instinct than anything — you don’t think, you react,” said Bennett of the team’s second fight of the year. “I didn’t like the hit. It’s a part of the game, but sometimes when there’s hit like that, you have to do your own policing.
“It’s great to see the boys react well after that. The boys were all coming up to me. It was amazing to see the boys not quit. It was a real gutty and well-played third period. We’re a really resilient group. It’s a pretty incredible comeback — it’s hard to do in this league.”
Even for a team that leads the league in third-period scoring and has had a penchant for late-game heroics, as they’ve collected seven of their last eight possible points since their 9-1 thrashing by Pittsburgh.
A Gabriel Landeskog goal with 63 seconds left made for a tense final minute in which Smith held the fort, a bounce-back third-period effort that masked an otherwise shaky performance in which the Flames outshot the visitors 37-26.