LOS ANGELES – A glimpse of blood leaking down the ever-battered beak of Milan Lucic in the Staples Center penalty box was cause for Jumbotron operators to show the crowd.
They ate it up, roaring with approval over the sight of the former King banged up.
Alas, it appeared minutes later as though ol’ Looch would have the last laugh.
Early in the second period of a listless effort that had the Calgary Flames being outplayed by the host Los Angeles Kings in a scoreless draw, the veteran tough guy organized a set-to with behemoth Kurtis MacDermid.
Big boy tilt.https://t.co/blcLwGFrFO
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) February 13, 2020
Shortly after 464 pounds of beef finished trading some bombs, the Flames responded with a Mikael Backlund goal that appeared to turn the tide.
For 44 seconds, anyway.
Suddenly down 2-1, the Flames would play chase the rest of the night in vain, falling for the third time in four outings against the West’s worst, 5-3, on Wednesday.
“Second period we score a goal and we have to be better than that than to let two goals in right away,” said Backlund.
“Looch did a great job stepping up for us and creating momentum, but we set ourselves back by letting two goals in right after that. You can’t do that this time of year.”
Backlund saw the three goals in 83 seconds as the turning point in a game that was rife with the type of neutral-zone turnovers that have plagued the Flames far too often this season.
“Same old story — every time we don’t manage the puck well it ends up in the back of our nets and costs us hockey games,” said Lucic following his club’s first loss on this three-game roadie.
“We played well, and then I think if you look at all four goals, it’s our own doing in terms of turning the puck over and them pounding on it to score a goal. Other than that, we played a good game, had some good chances. Our power play was so good for us the last couple of games and it wasn’t able to get one tonight, and that was the difference. We just kept hitting the goalie here.”
The Flames’ best chance at tying the game came while trailing 3-2 with 11 minutes left in the third period when the Flames were handed a 5-on-3 powerplay for just over a minute.
The two shots on goal generated were both stopped by Calvin Petersen, opening the door for Jeff Carter to extend the lead before Elias Lindholm’s second goal of the game, this time with the goalie pulled, made the final few minutes interesting.
“Probably puck management at critical times of the game,” said Flames coach Geoff Ward when asked about the difference in the game.
“At the end of the day, some of the turnovers in the neutral zone came back to haunt us. The two power plays in the third period when we get the 5-on-3, we’ve got to be a little more efficient there and make that work for us. We were just too slow (on the two-man advantage) – too deliberate.”
The loss ended the momentum that had been building with back-to-back, six-goal efforts that saw the club score plenty of greasy goals in tight.
On this night, the team reverted back to being more of a perimeter squad, unable to penetrate the middle of the ice dominated by a Kings club that somehow has the Flames’ number this year.
In a race this tight, you have to wonder if coughing up six of a possible eight points against the West’s bottom-feeder could really haunt the Flames by game 82.
The Flames’ best player on the night was Rittich, whose 13 saves in the first period included a breakaway stop and several five-bellers.
Alas, his efforts couldn’t overcome an evening that saw Noah Nanifin and Rasmus Andersson caught in too deep on Wagner’s breakaway goal, followed by a neutral-zone giveaway by Oliver Kylington that eventually led to a rare MacDermid snipe early in the third.
The Flames took solace in the possibility of returning home from their four-game trip with a win Thursday night in Anaheim where Cam Talbot is sure to get the start.
Just prior to puck drop, Flames GM Brad Treliving spoke for the first time about the injury that sent Travis Hamonic home after Saturday’s game and now has him on the injured reserve until at least Sunday.
“We’ll know more when we get home (Friday),” said Treliving of an upper-body injury he insisted was not to the shoulder or a concussion.
“He’s going to miss some time. How much? I just don’t know.”