There aren’t many bigger tests the reinvigorated Calgary Flames could have faced than this.
Finally starting to feel good about themselves after accruing points in six straight games, the Flames faced their first juggernaut in a while.
Increasing their confidence and win total against a slew of patsies the last few weeks, they came up against their nemesis in the Colorado Avalanche, who just happened to have won six in a row.
Given the Flames’ fragility, inconsistency, absence of star power and recent history of horrors against the Avs, this promised to be a stern test for the upstart Flames.
With flying colours.
With Nathan MacKinnon continuing to play the best hockey of his career, the Avs are one of the most prolific, dangerous and deep teams in the NHL. Playing with endless confidence and swagger, they most certainly had every reason to believe they had the Flames right where they wanted them early, with a Ryan Graves goal four minutes in.
Even midway through the game, a suddenly hot Valeri Nichushkin put the hosts up 2-1 and gave them every reason to feel good about their lot.
Alas, the Flames kept pressing against a team they lost to 4-1 in last spring’s playoff series, as well as in both games this season.
Three-straight goals from the Flames turned the complexion quickly Monday, as a late, second-period, power-play snipe by Matthew Tkachuk was followed by Andrew Mangiapane and Michael Frolik markers early in the third to put the visitors up 4-2 a mere 99 seconds into the frame.
Cue the MacKinnon Show, episode 350.
A stellar goal and pretty setup by No. 29 were all part of an eight-shot, 24-minute outing in a game destined for overtime.
It was there that Dillon Dube’s pass sprung Sean Monahan for his 11th career extra-time winner to put Geoff Ward’s record at 5-0-0 as Flames boss.
Yes, in the same building in which their dream season last year was ended in nightmarish fashion, the Flames officially proved they’ve got their swagger back.
Momentum is a powerful thing, and through some of the most trying times in franchise history, this team now has oodles of it.
THE BIG TAKEAWAY
When the Flames’ season began, optimism abounded that they could once again challenge for top spot in the West due to their depth.
Alas, the supporting cast that let the team down the first two dozen games of the season is now taking centre stage.
While Monahan’s winner and Johnny Gaudreau’s improved play of late are not to be overlooked, the Flames’ depth charges were once again the heroes.
For just the second time this year, Calgary’s fourth line scored when Michael Frolik knocked in a centering pass from Tobias Rieder for the team’s fourth goal. The play started with a great lob pass from Mark Jankowski – yes, he finally got his first point of the year – that Rieder corralled out of the air with his stick before backhanding it to Frolik. First-line hands from fourth-liners.
That line, which has been a series of moving parts all year that continued to amount to nothing, was so good they were on the ice for the bulk of the final minute of play.
Derek Ryan’s third line prolonged a stretch of three weeks as the team’s best trio, with the veteran centre redirecting an Oliver Kylington blast into the net to tie the game 1-1.
Ryan’s linemate, Dube, was instrumental in the setup, as he was in overtime, giving him two helpers on the night to extend his point streak to five games.
Not bad for a mid-November call-up who has three goals and seven points his last six games.
The third part of that line, Milan Lucic, had another strong outing.
Mangiapane, Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm combined for five points and were solid on the second line, while Gaudreau and Monahan continue to recalibrate as a duo alongside Mikael Backlund.
The team’s two biggest names produced several good scoring chances.
At the back end, Mark Giordano made a game-saving play to stop MacKinnon in tight moments before Dube and Monahan raced up ice to end the entertaining night in shocking fashion.
Indeed, Ward is pushing all the right buttons, David Rittich is making key saves and the team is finally playing like one.
• Despite having a tremendous impact on the game Saturday with a goal, a hellacious hit, a fight, a game misconduct and plenty of energy, Zac Rinaldo was a healthy scratch alongside Michael Stone. They were replaced in the lineup by Jankowski and Kylington.
• Although buoyed by recent returns to the lineup, Mikko Rantanen and captain Gabriel Landeskog, the Avs were missing Calgary native and Calder frontrunner Cale Makar, who left Saturday’s game with an upper-body injury. Starting netminder Philippe Grubauer also departed Saturday’s game with a hamstring injury, opening the door for Pavel Francouz to start. The backup was Adam Werner, who was called up to replace Grubauer, who is day-to-day. Nazem Kadri’s lower-body injury also kept him out of action.
• Tkachuk’s second period goal was the 300th point of his NHL career. It comes two nights after Lucic scored his 200th goal and Backlund got his 200th assist.
Flames visit the Arizona Coyotes in Glendale on Tuesday night before returning home for a Thursday date with the Toronto Maple Leafs.