CALGARY – The last thing the Calgary Flames wanted to do was delay the start of their nine-day break.
So, 15 seconds into overtime, Mikael Backlund put a dramatic exclamation mark on the most intriguing first half in team lore.
Driving the net with a sweet move to his forehand before popping the puck past Petr Mrazek, Backlund sent the town into its latest frenzy, sparking a bench-emptying celebration in the corner that capped one of the most remarkable first-half stories of the NHL season.
Two seconds earlier and it would have tied the team record for fastest overtime goal.
"For sure I think everybody is happy about how we ended the first half," said rookie Oliver Kylington, who opened the scoring in a 3-2 overtime win with his third of the year.
"I don’t think we played our best game, but we showed we can score goals and still be in a game without playing our best."
Outshot 35-25 and generally outskated by an upstart Hurricanes team that included a pair of former teammates, the Flames rode on the back of red-hot goalie David Rittich once again in a game Sebastian Aho tied with 43 second remaining.
In the end, Rittich’s 33 saves helped up his record to 18-4-4, going 8-0-3 of late on a west-leading team that has lost just once since Christmas.
"Again we find a way to win," shrugged Backlund of the team’s trademark this season.
"That was our weakness last year – we couldn’t find ways to win. This year it’s the opposite. That usually happens with a good team – they find a way to win.
The Flames go into the break on an 11-1-2 binge, giving them a six-point cushion on San Jose, seven on Winnipeg and eight on Vegas.
Not bad for a non-playoff team that started the season with goalie questions.
However, every player in the organization knows it’s where the lads go from here that matters much more.
"Most guys were here last year and learned a lesson from not being as good after the break," said Backlund, whose club tumbled form a playoff perch shortly after the all-star stoppage.
"We know what to do and what not to."
An evening preceded by endless talk of the four players involved in the teams’ summertime swap saw very little from the transfers on either team.
Elias Lindholm managed to extend his point streak to eight games with a second assist on the overtime winner, while Noah Hanifin finished minus-1 after an attempt at an empty net goal from his own end wound up shortly thereafter in his own net.
Dougie Hamilton had a goal changed from Andrei Svechnikov to his name after it bounced off T.J. Brodie’s stick, and Micheal Ferland didn’t return for the third period as his back injury flared up.
Johnny Gaudreau, the lone Flames representative at the all-star game with coach Bill Peters, saw his career-best 11-game point streak snapped after hitting the post from in close in the third.
A far more glaring miss came in the second period when James Neal was unable to complete a pretty give and go when the puck jumped over his stick as he motioned to put it into an empty net.
He still represents the lone struggler on a Flames team rolling in every possible way.
The concern now is that the momentum carrying the Flames in their breakthrough season could be lost with the rest.
Aiding their return will be news Alex Ovechkin will play in Toronto Wednesday, meaning he will sit out his one-game suspension for skipping the all-star break on Feb. 1 when the Flames return to action in Washington.
"It’s important to go into a break with a good taste in your mouth," said Peters, whose club did well most of the third period to hold onto its 2-1 lead by controlling play in the opposition’s zone.
"I like the way we’re trending and the contributions we’re getting from so many guys. We’ve got lots of guys playing at a high level and it’s encouraging."
Following the game the Flames took photos and autographed jerseys with military personnel as part of Canadian Armed Forces night.
Dozens of players from both teams then congregated with old teammates in the bowels of the rink, including a chit-chat between Ferland and Matthew Tkachuk.
"I thought the third period was our best period again tonight and we’ve been doing a good job of finding a way to win," said Mark Jankowski, whose eighth of the season came four-on-four, helping to give the Flames a remarkable 28-8-5 record since their 9-1 drubbing at home against Pittsburgh.
"We’re proud of what we’ve done to this point, but we’re not where we want to be yet. There’s a lot of season left to go, so we have to come back from the break ready for the grind."