TAMPA – Two nights earlier, the Calgary Flames liked almost everything about their game, except the gut-wrenching result.
Midway through Saturday, there wasn’t much to like at all, down 3-0 to a far more inspired and talented Lightning squad.
Yet suddenly, after two quick strikes against the world’s best goalie, there they were, down just a goal with five minutes left in the second.
A façade? An illusion?
Whatever the case, it was fleeting, as Alex Killorn raced in alone less than a minute later to plunge the dagger into the Flames with a backhand deke David Rittich bit hard on, going the wrong way.
Despite a late power play goal with the goalie pulled, the Flames never recovered.
“It’s tough, especially when it’s due to a line change,” Flames interim coach Geoff Ward said of the game-winner, courtesy of a Blake Coleman chip past Noah Hanifin to Killorn, who was alone at the blue line due to a late change by Erik Gustafsson.
“That should be something we’re not giving them. A couple of things happened on it, but to give up a winning goal on a line change at this time of year is hard.”
So is coming back after spotting one of the league’s best teams an opening field goal built by two power play goals and a shorty.
“That’s not the recipe for success on most nights,” Ward said of the 4-3 loss, admitting straight-up the better team won.
“They played harder than we did for longer today. They won the special-teams game. I thought we were good in spurts, but we needed to be better more often in the hockey game. I thought they skated well. I thought they competed real hard. They looked like a team that had lost four (in a row) and were desperate for a win. I would say that’s a fair assessment — they played hard enough to win the hockey game.”
If this was indeed a measuring stick game, it’s clear the Flames still have plenty of work to do, as the score was flattering on a night the visitors were out-shot 33-21.
Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat had the hosts up 2-0 midway through the game, converting the Bolts’ first two power play chances.
Minutes later, Yanni Gourde’s shorthanded goal appeared to be the back-breaker before Andrew Mangiapane put one between the legs of Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Elias Lindholm bounced one in off a defender 52 seconds later.
“I don’t know where (Mangiapane’s) goal came – before that I didn’t think we had much,” Lindholm said.
“We were right back in it and they were on their heels. Then (Killorn) got one and we were back on our heels again. That was a tough moment for us.”
Few moments this season could have been tougher than the Flames’ loss in Nashville on Thursday when Mikael Granlund tied it with one-tenth of a second left before winning it in overtime.
Saturday’s loss had more to do with the Lightning’s will and skill than the Flames’ inability to bounce back.
Despite being out-hit, out-chanced, out-shot and outplayed, Sean Monahan’s goal with 2:49 remaining gave them a final few minutes of zone time to try pulling off their version of the Music City miracle.
Alas, they could only generate one shot after that with their goalie pulled.
“They have 90 points, or whatever, for a reason right now, second in the league,” Matthew Tkachuk said.
“They’re definitely one of the better teams that we’ve played this year. They didn’t give us much tonight. They held us to a low number of shots, especially earlier on in the game. They capitalized when they had the chances. They capitalized on the power play. They’ve got some dangerous guys over there. And the goalie played good when he had to in the third. We had stretches of hockey in their zone, but not enough tonight. Not nearly enough. I don’t think any of us are happy with our game today.”
The win snapped a rare four-game skid for Tampa, mere hours after it was announced Steven Stamkos will undergo surgery for a core muscle injury that is expected to sideline him the rest of the regular season and potentially the first round of the playoffs.
The Flames jumped on a charter flight to Fort Lauderdale after the game for an identical 4 p.m. ET start against the Panthers on Sunday to wrap up a five-game roadie.
“(Sunday) is going to be huge,” Lindholm said.
“Obviously if we win we’re going to be 3-1-1 – that’s a good road trip for us. We’ve got to put this behind us.”
That’s what they said two nights earlier.