LAS VEGAS – Mere metres from a strip where the likes of Criss Angel, David Copperfield and Penn & Teller have performed endless illusions, the Calgary Flames staged one of their own Saturday.
In the midst of their fifth appearance ever at T-Mobile Arena, the visitors did well to make it look like they were actually in the game for a time.
It was a façade.
Two goals in 33 seconds to open the second period gave the Flames a 2-1 lead in a game in which they had no business pretending to be front-runners.
Alas, the Golden Knights’ dominance over the Flames resumed soon thereafter when a Mark Stone goal minutes later kicked off a five-goal spree from a host team that has still never lost to Calgary at T-Mobile Arena.
Flames coach Bill Peters was unable to disguise his frustration over the effort of his team.
“We didn’t play hard enough," said Peters of his club’s 6-2 beat down.
"Until we start to play hard — and play hard for 60 minutes — it’s going to be up in the air all night long, or you’re going to get blown out. We’ve got to develop a little bit of a work ethic here.”
A harsh assessment indeed, but one his players shared.
"I think we started to play the right way there for a couple minutes and we got rewarded for it," said Milan Lucic, whose club erased a 1-0 deficit early in the second thanks to a Rasmus Andersson goal and another credited to Johnny Gaudreau that was actually tipped in by William Karlsson.
"Then we went back to cheating for offence and once we started turning pucks over and not covering up we gave up some odd man rushes and the puck wound up in the back of the net.
"It’s one of those games we can learn a lot from early on and that’s what we need to do with a quick turnaround playing (Sunday) night."
In an outing that saw plenty of bad bounces end up behind him, David Rittich finished with 24 saves.
He thwarted an admirable number of the 18 scoring chances the Knights generated, but twice saw pucks squeeze through his pads, thanks to shots from Paul Stastny and Ryan Reaves.
"I thought we carried most of the game," said Reaves.
"They caught up in shots at the end of the game obviously (the Flames outshot Vegas 35-30), but I thought for 50 or 55 minutes we carried the game."
Reaves’ goal made it 5-2 early in the third on a play in which Andersson turned the puck over after Mark Jankowski and Sam Bennett collided at the blue line. Reaves then walked around Andersson and beat Rittich to put the game out of reach.
It marked the fifth-straight start for Rittich, who has faced 30 or more shots every outing, en route to a 2-2-1 record.
It had been predetermined he’d give way to Cam Talbot on Sunday in San Jose where the assignment doesn’t get any easier for a team that has yet to hit its stride this season.
For the third time this year the Flames were outskated the first 20 minutes, but bailed out by Rittich once again.
This wasn’t on him.
"We’ve got to be ready to play," said Andersson, who played on the top defensive pairing with Mark Giordano.
"The first period was not good. I’ve said it (before), we haven’t played good for 60 minutes yet. That’s what we’re looking to do here. We started off the second period really well. We got two quick ones there. If you make mistakes against a team like this, they’re going to punish you and that’s what they did.
“We’re disappointed the way we’ve played. We haven’t played hard enough. We’re well aware we haven’t played hard enough and we haven’t played hard enough on a consistent basis.”