CALGARY — One game after the worst ‘Dome beating in 18 years, the Calgary Flames found themselves down two goals early to the Stanley Cup champs.
The Dome Groan was deafening when T.J. Oshie scored the second. It was clear the hosts needed to come up with the two things they were short on last year: character and goals.
Fifteen seconds after Oshie’s strike, a fortuitous bounce off Travis Hamonic’s skate changed everything: the tone, the game and maybe the season for a team desperate to end its recent misery.
Two minutes later, Elias Lindholm tied it, as his squad did with 1:27 in regulation.
The game was rife with drama.
Alas, the afternoon ended with a shootout-winning snipe by Nicklas Backstrom that sent Flames faithful home unsure quite what to think. Yes, their team stopped the bleeding following a 9-1 pummelling by Pittsburgh, but they fell short of the two points.
The players weren’t quite sure what to make of it either, as the dressing room afterwards was quiet and empty despite salvaging a point and the sanity of their followers.
The room was full of several things that were missing before the game: optimism, confidence and plenty of relief.
“That’s a big point for our team,” said Mike Smith, who deserves full marks for bouncing back brilliantly from a nightmarish start that saw him let in six goals in half the game.
“Any time you get embarrassed like that it shows a lot about the character of this group when you play against the best team in the league and are right there, one bounce away from beating them. Obviously we still want to push forward — we don’t want to get complacent here — but it’s definitely a great sign.”
That’s exactly what should be taken from the Flames’ 4-3 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals.
The hosts showed resilience this team was incapable of down the stretch last season, when the only thing more scarce than goals was goaltending. On this day, they stopped the bleeding.
“It couldn’t get much worse than last game, but the way we bounced back…” started Matthew Tkachuk, whose game-tying redirection of a Rasmus Andersson shot with under 90 seconds left in regulation came with the goalie pulled, the crowd on its feet and plenty on the line.
“Tough start to the game today, 2-0. Great resilience, though, to score two before the end of the first period. That was huge for us. So we’ll take the positives. And now we’re probably playing arguably an even better team in the Leafs right now, the way they’re playing.
“Still, it sucks anytime you lose.”
Again, it hardly felt like a loss as Smith’s bounceback is central to any hopes the Flames have of living up to playoff expectations.
A spectacular glove save on an Oshie blast in tight with seven minutes left kept the Flames within one on a night he was focused on proving he still has plenty of game left at 36.
Dillon Dube hit the iron less than a minute later in an intense finish that saw the Flames squander a power play with one minute left and a minute into overtime.
“Honestly, I thought it was a good hockey game,” said Smith, whose club limited the lapses that have plagued them of late.
“They’re one of the best teams in the league and I thought we were right there with them. Especially after what happened last game. I talked about how you can go about it two ways — you can feel sorry for yourself or you can come out today and put in a good effort. I thought we did that.”
So did the coach.
“That’s probably the hardest we have worked from start to finish as a group,” said Peters, whose reworked team is 5-5-1 despite struggling to catch its stride.
“We didn’t get down. They scored on the power play to take it to two-to-zip, but we responded well throughout the game. We played much better in our own zone a got a hard-fought point.”