Flames navigating first taste of playoff adversity with confidence

Sam Bennett didn't pull any punches when talking about his team's play. The Flames forward says they weren't 'even close to good enough' and can be more physical and be much better.

CALGARY – No one trashed the dressing room, smashed their stick or threw anyone under the bus.

Nobody blamed the officiating or chalked it up to bad luck. Even a day later, no one made excuses. The Calgary Flames are owning their Game 2 overtime loss to Colorado.

As they should. They simply weren’t good enough. They weren’t fast enough or hard enough to play against, and they definitely didn’t open with the type of emotion and intensity the Avalanche did.

And from all that Mike Smith actually takes great solace.

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"I don’t think we’ve played our best hockey yet," said the Flames’ 37-year-old netminder, showing no signs of concern following Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss at the Saddledome.

"I think everyone in here will tell you the same thing – I think we were a little tentative. We weren’t skating as well as we can and we have, and it made them look really, really fast. We’ll clean that up."

The Avalanche looked fast alright – much faster than a Flames crew that chased the Avs around the ice in the first two periods while Smith played hero once again. But with every glove snare, pad stop and ensuing chant of his name, there was still a feeling Colorado ultimately wouldn’t be denied.

Even when Sean Monahan put the Flames up 2-1 with seven minutes left, it felt like just a matter of time before someone – J.T. Compher would be the one to step forward – would tie the game with the goalie pulled for an extra attacker. His goal involved a fortuitous bounce, but given how hard the Avs had been pressing the first two games they certainly deserved some puck luck.

And now they return to Colorado with a 1-1 split that gives them home-ice advantage, the knowledge Smith can be solved, and a belief they can finally beat Calgary – something they hadn’t done in four previous tries this season.

If all that momentum wasn’t enough, GM Joe Sakic just signed and airlifted in arguably the hottest defensive prospect in hockey – Cale Makar, who won the Hobey Baker Award Friday, one day before his UMass Minutemen lost in Saturday’s Frozen Four final.

The most delicious irony of it all – he’s an Alberta Junior Hockey League grad from Calgary.

Smith and the rest of the Flames can be forgiven for not caring much at all about the goings-on in the opposition’s camp. They’re just focused on playing closer to the type of style that made them runaway winners of the Western Conference.

They did so on the power of tremendous depth and consistency that ensured they rebounded well from various setbacks.

This is their first taste of playoff adversity.

"If anyone thought in here we were going to sweep this team, I think we got another thing coming for us," said Smith, who has stopped 62 of 65 shots in a series that took a dramatic turn when Nathan MacKinnon’s rocket found the top shelf in overtime Saturday.

"It’s going to be a long series, and you have to prepare yourself for that.

"We haven’t skated like we can – I think our execution has been a little bit sloppy at times. I thought we got better as the game went on again. We need to bring it for the whole game. That’s what it’s going to take in the playoffs. To get where you want to be you have to be as consistent as possible, as mistake-free as possible."

Smith has done well to mask those mistakes in the first two games as the central figure in a series that has featured plenty of physicality, endless speed and phenomenal goaltending at both ends.

Philipp Grubauer, who entered the playoffs as the NHL’s hottest netminder not named Jordan Binnington, made 35 saves to backstop the Avs in a tight, entertaining game.

Flames coach Bill Peters, who was critical of his team’s slow start Saturday, said Sunday he’ll likely make a few minor changes to his lineup ahead of Game 3 in Denver on Monday. Otherwise, the goal is for things to remain business as usual.

After all, business has been good this year for the Flames.

"It’s a game of mistakes – a game of inches – the margin of error is so small in the playoffs," said Smith, whose name reverberated around the Dome for the second-straight game.

"It’s cliché, but every play counts mentality. You have to have that to be successful.

"There are going to be breakdowns but you have to know how to cover them up and do the right things. We did a lot of good things. Our penalty killers did an unbelievable job tonight. The power play gets one for us.

"We’ll be better when we get to Colorado."

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