Onus is on Flames to prove they’re resilient, not reliving past failures

Eric Francis and Ryan Leslie discuss the Flames falling in Game 5 to the Stars and what Calgary will need to do to avoid elimination.

EDMONTON — Calgary Flames fans have seen this act before.

No, it’s not a disappearing act. They deserve much more credit than that.

This is more of a tide-turning tale that has seen the Flames squander early success in a series, only to be overcome by a sizeable shift in momentum.

Despite winning Games 1 and 3 in the series against Dallas, the Flames have now been outplayed the last four games to face elimination Thursday in a series they now trail 3-2.

One year earlier, the Flames opened the playoffs with a win over Colorado, only to see the Avalanche become an unstoppable force the next four.

“It’s not similar,” protested Flames coach Geoff Ward following the team’s 2-1 loss Tuesday when asked how it was any different.

“Last year we didn’t win a round. This year we won a round. Last year we didn’t have the fight this team does. We didn’t battle back. Once we got behind in games (last playoffs) there was no way.

“This team is fighting to the end. It’s a more relentless team, a more battle-tested, hardened team than last year’s team. For me, there’s no comparison. I know the comparison is going to be made but there’s nothing that’s the same as last year. Nothing. It’s two totally different situations for me.”

Mikael Backlund, who salvaged an admittedly poor start Tuesday with a late first-period goal to tie things 1-1, also disagreed with the narrative, despite admitting that after squandering a late lead in Game 2 last year his team was outplayed the rest of the way.

“This year we’re in a close series and we’ve done a better job,” said Backlund, whose club allowed a Jamie Benn shorthanded goal midway through the first.

“It’s an even series — we’re right there. Not that we didn’t believe last year, but this year, even though we’re down today, this group this year has more strength than we did last year.

“I think we got caught a little off guard last year too, having success in the regular season and then playing a hot eighth seed while we were off for a week. It’s time for us to come back in a series and win a series while we are down.”

Without question this has been a much tighter series against a more formidable opponent — a team that has perfected the art of keeping opponents to the outside.

The fight the Flames have put up has indeed been tremendously gritty, going hit-for-hit with a big, veteran bunch that has had its hands full.

The Stars have simply been the better team of late, building confidence and momentum ever since winning Game 2.

If indeed the Flames can somehow stop the momentum that has seen the Stars outshoot Calgary 165-118 the last four games, it will demonstrate last season’s lessons have contributed to an improved resiliency.

We’ve seen plenty of character already, but the onus is on them to prove they can indeed rise to the occasion when it matters most.

On Tuesday, Ward said he saw his team open the game by exhibiting nervousness he had never before seen from his team. The possibility of leaving the rink on the brink of elimination affected their start — a bad sign.

A good sign is that they escaped the frame tied 1-1 and steadily improved in the second and third.

Still, after John Klingberg’s point blast beat Cam Talbot early in the third without the aid of a screen, the Flames’ offence rarely threatened. Yes, Rasmus Andersson rang one off the iron, Elias Lindholm was foiled by the knob on Anton Khudobin’s stick and an Erik Gustafsson rocket was easily gloved.

But even with the goalie pulled and a late penalty call to the Stars, the Flames never threatened in the final minutes.

“Right now frustration is a waste of emotion,” said Milan Lucic, whose squad played without Matthew Tkachuk for the third straight game.

“The guys feel it’s time now — especially the core guys that have been here a lot of years — to show we can have success in the playoffs,” added Backlund, whose goal was preceded with a sweet move to open up a rare shooting lane.

“It’s a different mindset from the past.”

As Ward points out, mindset will very likely be the difference in a series this competitive.

“Right now it’s not about X’s and O’s, it’s about will and it’s about winning races and battles and being able to play inside — all those things,” said Ward, who tried to inject energy into the top line in the second period by swapping in Tobias Rieder for Lindholm, to play alongside Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau.

“We don’t need anything extraordinary out of our best players. Everybody keeps coming back to our best players. We win and lose as a team. This is about 20 guys coming together and winning a hockey game. It’s just not Monahan and Gaudreau, it’s everybody. We’ve got to find ways to create opportunities around their net. We’ve done that at points, and at others we’ve been held to the outside.”

Indeed, such tight defence is a Stars tradition that has done a formidable job neutralizing the Flames’ top line all series long. Gaudreau and Monahan certainly appeared game for Tuesday’s task, but were limited to two harmless shots apiece.

“I’m confident we’re going to put a good game on the ice in Game 6 — the game demands we do,” said Ward of their Thursday test.

“I don’t expect anything less, based on everything our team has gone through.”

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