Matthew Tkachuk scored the game-tying and game-winning goals, his 19th and 20th of the season, to lead the Flames to a 3-2 come from behind victory over the Islanders at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
FLAMES WIN GAME, POTENTIALLY LOSE GOALTENDER
With his team leading by a goal and time winding down in the third period, Mike Smith made a game-saving stop on John Tavares, sliding across his crease from left to right to prevent the Islanders captain from tying the game. Unfortunately, the Flames goaltender appeared to injure his groin on the play. Smith remained down for quite some time before being helped to his feet and off the ice by teammates. David Rittich played the final second in the 3-2 win.
When Smith left the game, the first thing that popped into my mind was the season-ending injury that Flames captain Mark Giordano sustained in a victory over the Devils on Feb. 25, 2015. Giordano, who was having a career year and was probably the leading candidate for the Norris Trophy, was lost for the season with a torn biceps tendon. Somehow, the Flames still made the playoffs for the first time in six seasons and knocked out the Canucks in the first round before being eliminated by the Ducks in the second.
As important as Giordano was to the Flames’ 2014-15 team, I think it’s safe to say that Smith is equally, if not more important to the 2017-18 team. The 35-year-old is having one of the best seasons of his career and has probably been the team’s MVP.
As good as Rittich has been, losing Smith for a significant amount of time would be a huge blow for the Flames. After the game, Flames coaches and players would only say that they were hoping and praying that the injury wasn’t serious. Fans may have to hold their breath for a day or two before finding out more. For what it’s worth, Smith seemed to be walking without much of a hitch in his giddy up after the game. My fingers are crossed for Smith, a great guy who is having a great season.
The Flames weren’t great in the first period of Sunday’s game, but they sure were in the second and third periods. After getting outshot 11-9 in the first 20 minutes, the Flames outshot the Islanders 33-14 in the last 40 and 42-25 on the night.
The Islanders took a 2-0 lead on Casey Cizikas and Anthony Beauvillier goals that Smith would probably like to have back, but the NHL’s third highest-scoring team had trouble generating shots and creating chances versus a Flames squad that spent way more time in the offensive zone than they did in the defensive zone on Sunday.
Mark Jankowski snapped 11-game goalless and pointless streaks with his ninth of the season, cutting the Islanders lead in half just past the 10-minute mark of the second period.
The Flames squared the score less than halfway through the third when Matthew Tkachuk redirected a Michael Frolik centring pass past Halak to make it 2-2.
The Flames took their first lead with just 1:05 remaining in regulation time, when Tkachuk redirected a Travis Hamonic shot that was going about four feet wide of the net off the goal post, off the back of the Islanders goaltender and into the net. The 20-year-old’s 20th goal of the season gave the Flames a lead that they would not relinquish.
After spending the first seven seasons of his NHL career with the Islanders, Travis Hamonic faced his former team for the first time on Sunday. Selected in the second round, 53rd overall in 2008, the defenceman spent the first seven years of his NHL career with the Islanders before being traded to the Flames for a first-round pick and two second-round picks on June 24.
Hamonic, who won the NHL Foundation Award last season, was an important part of the Islanders organization, both on and off the ice, for almost a decade, so it was great to see him get a standing ovation when the Islanders played a video tribute for the 27-year-old in the first period.
It was also fitting that hard-nosed defenceman had the primary assist on the game-winning goal.
With three wins (in Chicago, Newark and Brooklyn) and one loss (in New York) in the first four games of their six-game, 11-day road trip, the Flames are off to Boston, where they’ll battle the Bruins on Tuesday.
With a 16-6-5 record outside of Scotiabank Saddledome, the Flames have a .685 point percentage on the road, second-best in the NHL, behind only the Bruins’ .708 point percentage. With or without Smith, Tuesday’s contest versus the surprising Bruins, who are second in the Atlantic Division, Eastern Conference and NHL’s overall standings with a 34-12-8 record and 76 points, will be a tough test for the Flames, who moved back into third place in the Pacific Division and into a Stanley Cup Playoff spot with Sunday’s win.