Flames’ fourth liners take centre stage when needed most in Game 1 win

NHL insider Eric Francis joins Dan Murphy to break down the Calgary Flames Game 1 win over Colorado, and why it was night that goalie Mike Smith will never forget.

CALGARY – The patience was sublime. The timing, impeccable.

Late in the second period of a scoreless, series-opening battle with Colorado, Andrew Mangiapane scooped the puck from the half wall, kicked it to his stick, scooted across the front of the net with a couple dangles and out-waited Philipp Grubauer before backhanding the puck in on one knee.

The rookie who waited 26 games for his first NHL goal had scored his first post-season marker on his very first try.

Cue the type of deafening roar none of the five Flames skaters on the ice had ever heard before.

The turnover that started the play was prompted by a Garnet Hathaway hit on Erik Johnson and aided by a net-front pick play by Derek Ryan on Nikita Zadorov.

Just as they’ve done consistently the last month, the Calgary Flames’ fourth liners were massive difference-makers in a game that saw all three making their playoff debut.

"I think him and Doc (Ryan) were probably having a conversation when I wasn’t there – that’s where he learned it," smiled Hathaway when asked how long it took to teach Mangiapane to finish that way.

"He’s a great player and that’s not going to be the only goals he’ll have like that. I expect a lot more."

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Few others had many expectations at all when the trio was first introduced in December following Mangiapane’s call-up from Stockton where the former OHL star became a point-per-game player at age 23.

Yet, there was the 5-foot-10, 180-pound winger taking centre stage when the team needed it most.

Indeed, the Flames’ depth was what many people figured would be the difference in this series. And if the highlight-reel goal wasn’t convincing enough, the Flames have difference-making skill on every line, perhaps the three penalty kills before it better illustrated the impact of guys like Ryan and Hathaway.

Or maybe it was the play three minutes after Mangiapane’s goal that saw Hathaway draw a penalty on the doorstep of the Avalanche net where he fired a shot off the crossbar.

On the ensuing power play Matthew Tkachuk put the Flames up 2-0 just before the second intermission.

"That was huge for sure," said Ryan.

"Everyone is talking about the goal but then we drew that penalty too and if that goal goes in it’s obviously huge but then we end up scoring on the power play."

Mike Smith’s monster night would close the door from there.

On a night in which Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm were pedestrian, the fourth line picked up the slack by continuing their month-long surge. Yes, Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik and Tkachuk shut down Colorado’s big guns while scoring three goals of their own in a 4-0 win. Clutch.

But it was young Hathaway combining with undersized Mangiapane and Ryan that broke the game open.

"The game has changed over the years – the lockout and the rules changed on obstruction and so you’re always looking for competitive players more so than anything," said coach Bill Peters of a line he refuses to call his "fourth" line.

"I’d rather have a 5-foot-11 guy who is in the trenches every night than a 6-foot-4 guy who is on the perimeter.

We just worry about who is in the heart of the game and those guys are in the heart of the game and do the heavy lifting."

Ryan, who spent four years at the University of Alberta and four years in Europe before making his NHL debut at age 29, entered the playoffs with six goals and 13 points in his last 13 games.

Mangiapane and Hathway have now combined for nine goals in that span, making them the team’s most prolific line the last month despite playing in the neighbourhood of just ten minutes a night.

"It’s just the way the game has changed and it speaks to what fans want to see – they want to see offence and speed and skill," said Ryan, 31, when asked about diminutive speedsters like himself flourishing on fourth lines.

"That’s just the way hockey has changed. I couldn’t get into the league 10-12 years ago because it was the exact opposite – it was meat and potatoes and bigger, slower bottom-six guys, but luckily the game has changed, allowing smaller and skilled players to have an impact."

On nights like Thursday when Calgary’s big guns were eerily silent once again, Ryan’s DAG Line came through again, keeping Colorado on its heels.

"It was our first playoff game for all three of us and once we settled in and remembered it’s just a hockey game we were able to take over five-on-five," said Hathaway, who killed more than three minutes of penalties alongside Ryan.

"We don’t spend a lot of time in our own zone, so when we wear the other team down in their zone it helps our whole team. You see with successful teams in the playoffs special teams are huge and that is a big part of our mindset going in as well."

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