BROOKLYN – It was supposed to be Travis Hamonic’s night. And with 1:05 left it sure seemed to go according to script, with the Calgary Flames defenceman assisting on the go-ahead goal in his return to Brooklyn.
Every Flames fan’s worst nightmare.
Helped off the ice with an apparent groin injury by two teammates, he was spelled off for the final tick of the click by David Rittich who will undoubtedly be carrying the goaltending load for at least the near future.
“He didn’t get hit or anything, it looked like he tweaked something,” said coach Glen Gulutzan following a 3-2 win marred by the injury.
“It’s tough. You never want to see it, but we’ll deal with it when we know what we’re dealing with.”
The good news is that Smith walked out of the dressing room without a limp.
The bad news is that any sort of prolonged absence could seriously threaten the club’s playoff chances.
“It would be a huge blow for our team,” said Gulutzan when asked about the repercussions of a Smith injury.
“Arguably our MVP. It would be a big blow, but he takes such good care of himself we’re hoping it will be minor. But if it isn’t we’ve got other guys who can come in, like lots of other teams have had to do.”
Jon Gillies, no doubt, has already been summoned from Stockton to back up Rittich in Boston on Tuesday.
Many worried all year long that despite being in impeccable shape, at age 35 Smith’s workload might lead to exactly this sort of injury. Ironically, it was one of his quietest nights this season, facing just 25 shots, including just seven in each of the last two frames.
The ice seemed tilted the latter half of the game as the Flames threw 33 shots at Jaroslav Halak in the final 40 minutes after falling behind 2-0 early in the second.
A Mark Jankowski power-play goal midway through gave them hope before Matthew Tkachuk played the hero the rest of the way.
On a night that saw him draw three penalties and hit the post, he was ultimately rewarded with two goals, including his 20th of the season – a career high for the sophomore winger.
The first came midway through the third period when he converted a Michael Frolik pass with a roof-job in tight. It set up the late winner that saw his redirection of a Hamonic point shot hit the post and bounce off the back of Jaroslav Halak’s pad into the net.
“He tips 40 to 50 pucks at the end of every practice and you get what you put in,” said Gulutzan, whose club immediately jetted off to Beantown for the fifth game of a road trip that’s seen the Flames go 3-1 so far.
“That’s a big goal for us. He was real good tonight.”
Hamonic, who was feted with a first period video tribute that brought tears to his eye and fans to their feet, agreed that being part of the game-winner was the cherry on top of a night he said he’ll remember when he’s 90.
“It’d be better if I scored it, I guess,” said a smiling Hamonic in a post-game scrum that saw the longtime Islander struggling to fight back emotions.
“We’ll have to check the video. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel too good. Today has just been a weird day – kind of emotional. I’m an emotional guy and when I look back at my time here I’m so proud of so many things.
“One of things I’m most proud of is how I’ve been treated by so many people. Not only the organization, my teammates and the staff but the fans, too. They really embraced my family and what it means to be an Islander.
“The video was touching. To get that ovation in warmup and that video – it meant a lot. I’m glad the game got started right away again.”
Part of why fans loved Hamonic so much over his seven years with the Islanders is because of his charity work, hosting youngsters who lost a parent like he did.
True to form, he hosted yet another child after last night’s game.
As he spoke after the game, you could see the screen of his phone lighting up with endless texts of congratulations from friends.
The Flames got a lift from an unlikely source late in the first period when Ryan Lomberg took exception to Ross Johnston’s treatment of Garnet Hathaway after a whistle. At the drop of the puck Lomberg and Johnston, dropped their mitts despite the fact the Flames call-up gives away eight inches and 48 pounds to the six-foot-five, 235-pound Islander.
Johnston won the fight and caught Lomberg with a stiff right hand that buckled him and ended his night. Still, Lomberg skated off the ice on his own steam while wearing a hint of a grin.
“Huge energy for us,” said Gulutzan. “To be honest, I couldn’t really keep him off the ice at that point. That’s his buddy Hath there and those young guys give you that energy. That’s a big tough guy and I thought he did well. It just goes to show what he’s made out of.
“He could have come back. We kept him out as a precaution. He was a little sour at us, but that’s what we’re going to do – protect our assets.”
Fortunately for the Flames, their assets include plenty of capable netminders, including Rittich who was solid in New Jersey Thursday in a 3-2 win.
There’s plenty of confidence the 25-year-old Czech rookie can continue to backstop the Flames admirably as he has while compiling a 5-1-2 record with a 2.20 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.