EDMONTON – Early in the second period of a game and series that could’ve gone either way, the Calgary Flames flipped a switch.
A switch that could ultimately mean lights out for a battered Winnipeg Jets club that was dominated in Tuesday’s Game 3 by a Flames team that turned back the clock to remind everyone why they were good enough to win the West last regular season.
Tied 1-1 in the series and after 20 minutes of play, the Flames pieced together a seven-minute stanza that saw relentless pressure from its top three lines and power play that resulted in four goals.
One was ultimately taken away by a challenge, but by the end of their flurry the Flames were well on their way to a dominating 6-2 win that has them on the brink of eliminating a team for the first time in five years.
This, for those who forgot, was the exact moment everything fell apart for the Calgary Flames last playoffs, losing by an identical 6-2 score in Colorado and getting punted in five.
“I think the best way to learn how to win at this time is to go through it,” said Matthew Tkachuk, whose goal was a significant part of the Flames second-period binge.
“I’ve had two quick exits and in my first two playoff series that I was a part of, we were 1-8. And last year, for example, we were on our high horse after Game 1. They got momentum from Game 2 and never gave it back to us. So, the momentum shifted after last game. The Jets came out with a big push and played really well and deserved to win. It was up to us to answer their push from last game and to get ourselves back into the series.”
The first answer came 18 seconds after the Jets opened the scoring, when Elias Lindholm redirected the first of three Flames power play markers on the day. Resilient.
The breakout fans have been waiting for all year came five minutes into the middle frame when Andrew Mangiapane’s steal from Connor Hellebuyck behind the net fed Mikael Backlund for an easy finish that kickstarted an onslaught.
One minute later, a Milan Lucic goal was disallowed due to goalie interference by Dillon Dube, followed by a Sean Monahan power play goal one minute after that.
More bounce back.
Andrew Copp and Tkachuk traded goals within the following few minutes for a 4-2 lead the Flames easily protected from there.
“In the second I thought we took a big step and separated ourselves from the Jets,” said Backlund, whose line with Tkachuk and Mangiapane dominated all night long, racking up five points and 11 shots.
“I thought we took charge. Pretty even first period, and I felt everyone wanted to take charge then. We sat back more in Game 2 and today we got back to the aggressive mindset we had in the first game.”
The top line added seven points and nine shots as Lindholm, Gaudreau and Monahan did the bulk of their damage with the extra man.
Lucic eventually scored one that counted on the power play, capping an effort from the third line that included plenty of punishment dished out, including a hit on Mathieu Perreault that knocked him from the game, joining Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine and Mason Appleton on the sideline.
So complete was the effort, Geoff Ward couldn’t name his best skater when pressed.
“I thought our goalie was our best player,” said Ward, whose club didn’t need many big saves from a quietly efficient Cam Talbot, who made 33 stops.
“You take a look at our top two lines, they were all in on scoring. I thought our scoring was balanced through our lineup. I would have to say that all of our key people were big contributors for us today. So it’s tough for me to pick one. We certainly got it done by committee today.”
Added Tkachuk, “the guys expected to score scored, the guys expected to make great plays made them, and the guy expected to make the saves made them.”
Nothing was missing, which is saying plenty for a team known for failing to elevate its game when it matters most.
Tuesday’s effort was as good as any the team pieced together in this long, crazy season.
It was eerily reminiscent of the team that topped the West with 107 points last year – a club that could roll with any adversity by scoring with anyone, clawing back against anything and stopping almost everything.
Unlike this juncture last year, this day there would be no adversity – just dominance.