Flames’ productive playoff run unravels in horrific, historic finale

Was Calgary's Game 6 loss to the Dallas Stars Johnny Gaudreau's last game in a Flames uniform? Ryan Leslie and Eric Francis break down the team's elimination and where the organization goes from here.

EDMONTON — After spending the bulk of the playoffs stealing wins from the opposition, Cam Talbot stole plenty of ammunition from those looking to pin the team’s horrific exit on the coach.

“Can’t say I blame him — I would have done the same thing if I was him,” said the Flames netminder, who was pulled early in the second period of a 3-3 game after surrendering his third goal on eight shots.

“It was a 3-0 hockey game for us and I had been there all playoffs for us. When we needed it the most, I wasn’t there. Some of those shots are obviously saveable and the onus is on me there. As much as I hated getting pulled, the momentum was changing and we had to do something. I could feel it coming.”

Talbot’s diplomacy came hours after he angrily skated to the Flames bench as he saw David Rittich fumbling to put on his gloves for his first NHL playoff duty.

With a remarkable early field goal by his squad just six minutes in suddenly squandered, there was the team’s playoff saviour skating angrily to the bench and down the hallway as the team’s season appeared to be unravelling.

“I was angry, disappointed at myself, frustrated for my teammates,” said Talbot, who stayed in the dressing room while Rittich was scored on twice as part of a five-goal second-period binge.

“Just went to the locker-room for five or 10 minutes, just to more or less calm down. I didn’t want to show my emotions on the bench. It doesn’t help anyone else on the bench, it’s a 3-3 hockey game. I tried to remove myself from the situation and not project that on anybody else because we still had a chance to win the hockey game.”

No they didn’t. Not after the team’s best player was hoisted in an age-old ploy to try shaking up momentum.

Problem with this scenario was that the replacement had only played half an exhibition game in the previous five months — an impossibly tough situation to put a man who didn’t have the luxury of a warmup stretch before playing his first NHL playoff action.

By period’s end, after a shaky performance from Rittich that produced just six stops on nine shots, the Flames’ season was over — finished off in six games by a Stars team that ended Calgary’s season with a thud.

Unlike the bulk of the hockey world, Geoff Ward wasn’t about to second-guess himself.

“No, I don’t think I made a mistake,” said the Flames interim coach, who put Talbot back in for the third period to surrender the final goal in a 7-3 trouncing by the Stars.

“The goals were a little bit unfortunate. I just felt like we needed to change the momentum and that was the initial thought on how to do it. Originally the plan was to get him out, get him re-focused and get him back in. He had an equipment issue, so he had to go down the tunnel and get it fixed. It’s probably an unfair spot to bring Ritter into with how little he’s played since returning.”

The equipment issue wasn’t mentioned by Talbot, but nonetheless, the Stars team that had trouble scoring all year had a bit of help from the two men with the most playoff experience of them all — Ward and Milan Lucic.

Shortly after the Flames’ phenomenal start saw Rasmus Andersson put them up 3-0, Lucic needlessly cross-checked a Stars defender into Anton Khudobin for a penalty the Stars cashed in on to get the ball rolling.

In the second period, another Lucic transgression helped Dallas to its fourth goal.

Ward spent plenty of time discussing the importance of managing moments, which was part of their downfall in their most humiliating playoff exit in recent Flames lore.

No team in Stanley Cup history has trailed by three only to go up by four. Impossible, some would have guessed.

Not so with this group, which put a horrific punctuation mark on an otherwise productive playoff — a playoff that could have seen the Flames break through to the second round had they been able to preserve a Game 4 lead that would would have put them up 3-1 in a series they never got back into.

“We might be talking about a whole different can of worms if we can take those 12 seconds off — it’s a whole different series then,” said Ward.

Don’t blame the series loss on the coach or suggest for a second he shouldn’t be the team’s coach next year.

Hindsight makes it clear his goalie move backfired.

“What Wardo was trying to do was trying to get momentum to shift there,” said captain Mark Giordano.

“I was happy to see Talbs get (put back in for) the third because he deserved to get back in there and battle with us, because he’s been our best player the whole playoffs. He’s the reason why we’re here — how many games did he win for us in this little run we had. My view was nothing more than a few tough bounces.”

Followed by the next three months of tough decisions for a GM whose core couldn’t get it done once again when it mattered most.

But that’s a column for another day.

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