CALGARY – The Calgary Flames opened Mike Vernon Bobblehead Night by scoring three goals in the first four minutes against the NHL’s best squad.
By the end of the first period, the visiting Bruins managed to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 3-3 pond hockey game.
“I started sweating,” laughed Vernon, now 56, getting flashbacks of playing in an era in which his career goals-against average of 2.98 was pretty darn good.
“Old time hockey out there.”
A mere 52 seconds after Vernon’s intermission comments, a Brad Marchand redirect changed everything.
From there the Flames got a lesson in how championship teams can turn an evening on a dime, completely dictate the style of play and flip a shinny game into a defensive gem.
The Flames went from setting a franchise record for the fastest three goals to open a game (3:23) to being victimized by just the seventh team in NHL history to win a game after allowing a trio in the opening four minutes.
“That’s what good teams are able to do,” said Flames interim coach Geoff Ward, who spent several years coaching a beasty Bruins team that won the Cup in 2011.
“I was talking to some of the (Bruins) walking by and they were saying, ‘We thought this could get out of control after 10 minutes.’ But they were able to get themselves back on track pretty quickly. Once they were able to tie the game and get the lead you saw how tight they played.”
Clogging lanes, taking away the middle of the ice and blocking shots the rest of the way, the Bruins held on for a 4-3 win that handed the Flames their sixth home loss in their last seven.
Maybe it’s best this fragile Flames club is now hitting the road for a five-game swing through Detroit, Boston, Nashville, Tampa and Sunrise.
“We controlled bits of the game but not enough – you can see why they’re one of the best teams,” said Matthew Tkachuk, whose fifth fight of the year came against Jeremy Lauzon midway through the second in an effort to turn the momentum.
“They did a great job protecting the lead in the third. When you have 10 or 11 shots after two periods (11 officially) it’s going to be tough to have the lead at that point.”
All told, the Flames had just 21 shots on goal, thanks largely to 19 shot blocks by the big bad Bruins. On very few occasions Jaroslav Halak had to make big saves.
For those who only tuned in to the first five minutes, it would have been hard to believe how frustrating it would later be for the Flames to generate chances.
After all, Mikael Backlund banged in a rebound just 20 seconds in to put the hosts up, before doubling the lead two minutes later.
Red-hot Patrice Bergeron, and a noticeably game Johnny Gaudreau, traded goals within the next minute to give the Flames their second two-goal lead.
That’s when the lessons began.
Bergeron’s second at the 6:12 mark was followed by Charlie Coyle’s game-tying goal 12 minutes in.
“It was 3-1 with 55 minutes left, so there’s basically the whole game there – you can’t take it for granted there even though it’s nice to got off to a good start,” said Tkachuk.
“Then they got three unanswered goals there. They’re a dangerous team, but I thought the first five minutes – except for the goal we gave them – we played with a lot of energy in the building, we played smart, we played in their face and didn’t over-respect them.”
Sam Bennett’s impressive play as a fill-in for sick centre Derek Ryan the previous two games was so well received he was kept on as the third-line pivot between Milan Lucic and Dillon Dube despite Ryan’s return.
With apologies to game star Backlund, Bennett’s third unit was Calgary’s best line.
Gaudreau was also a star, buzzing endlessly in an effort reminiscent of those he regularly played last season.
The Bruins were simply too good, which sets up an interesting rematch Tuesday in Boston, following Monday’s trade deadline.
“It’s good for us we were able to play them tight,” said Ward.
“There’s small solace in that – this time of year we need victories. But there’s a lot of things we can use to springboard for this road trip.”