Flames’ season of setbacks finally serving them well in crunch time

Arizona Coyotes' Brad Richardson chases the puck in front of Calgary Flames goalie Cam Talbot. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

CALGARY — It was the type of game playoff teams win.

The kind that buries looming rivals.

The kind that sees a team rise to the occasion, weather inevitable storms and finish strong.

That was the formula the Flames used to open up a five-point gap between them and the Coyotes with a 3-2 win over a visiting Arizona club that arrived with designs on inching closer.

After allowing the first shot on goal for the league-leading 10th time, the Flames did an impressive about-face mere minutes later.

Goals by Johnny Gaudreau and TJ Brodie 41 seconds apart gave the Flames the lead six minutes in before Mikael Backlund’s 10th goal in 13 games put them up 3-1 early in the second.

And then they held on.

Carl Soderberg’s crease-crashing rebound midway through the second made it a one-goal game and would likely have led to a further meltdown earlier in the season as the Coyotes fired 21 shots on net in the second.

But what followed was a second-half display of playoff-type hockey by a Flames team certainly rounding into form.

“You’ve got to be comfortable in these type of games,” said Matthew Tkachuk, who assisted on all three goals, including a brilliant pass to set up Gaudreau’s power-play marker.

“The minute they made it 3-2 it got scrambly there, but we were able to roll right after that, which is really nice. We were talking about it before the third — it’s going to be a playoff-type period. This is a four-pointer and this is going to be the way it’s going to be down the stretch, so I’m happy with our effort, especially in the third.”

Coming off a successful road trip in which the Flames picked up seven of 10 points, they’ve now won the first two of a five-game home stand to sit third in the Pacific, three clear of a boatload of challengers.

It’s a tiny bit of breathing room, which is a reward for two weeks of solid play.

“Every game right now has to be a playoff-type atmosphere — all these games are going to make or break our season right now,” said Cam Talbot, who stopped 32 of 33 shots after Taylor Hall’s bullet beat him 1:11 in.

“To get an extra two points tonight and to get some help from around the league helps when we see that team (division-leading Vegas) coming in here Sunday. To be able to close those gaps and push other teams down is obviously huge.”

So is Sunday’s showdown with the Golden Knights, who were blanked by Winnipeg to sit just three up on the Flames.

The Flames have every right to feel ready for their biggest test yet, as a season of setbacks is finally serving the team well.

“It’s paramount that you’re able to deal with adversity,” said interim coach Geoff Ward of the game-opening goal, which did little to sag his bench.

“You need to be battle tested at this time of year. I thought things went so well for us wire to wire last year, so we really didn’t get that adversity to be as battle-tested as we have been this year. Whenever you get battle tested like this you get to develop this little bit of skin. You get to develop a mindset that, ‘You’re okay and you’re still in control and you do what you need to do to have the response in order to get the hockey game back under your control.’

“If we treat all that adversity we’ve gone through the right way, it makes you better and I think the guys have done a really good job with that. It’s nice to see we’re at the positive end of those situations and it’s at the right time.”

The Flames won their third in a row thanks to a team effort that included vintage Gaudreau, a typically tenacious Tkachuk and yet another in a recent series of strikes from Backlund.

Talbot, who was suiting up for his 300th start Friday, has been the man in net for all three of those wins, potentially earning him yet another start Sunday.

“Two big wins here at home,” said Gaudreau, whose club had only won one of seven games at home prior to this week.

“The power play was huge tonight and the penalty kill was great. You win games in this league with special teams and we won both tonight.”

NOTES: The NHL issued a warning to players Friday, suggesting they limit contact with fans with an eye on avoiding Coronavirus.

“I just got done signing for 20 minutes, so I obviously didn’t get the memo,” smiled Tkachuk after the game.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.