UNIONDALE, NY — Same team. Same result.
What was also eerily similar was an awkward moment late in the game when it appeared Mike Smith suffered the same injury that derailed the Flames season last year. Alas, the Flames goalie said after the 3-1 win over the Islanders, he’s “okay.”
What was refreshingly new was the sensational way Matthew Tkachuk scored to snap a 14-game scoreless streak.
Taking a feed from Elias Lindholm while parked in his net-side happy place, Tkachuk skated backwards to the top of the crease where he put his stick and the puck between his legs and flipped the puck past Robin Lehner.
A new-age goal no one dared attempt 15 or 20 years ago, but one the YouTube generation practices regularly these days.
Trust me — you’ll see it plenty online and on the telly.
“It was an instinctual play,” smiled Tkachuk of the power-play goal that put his Flames up 1-0 early in the second period. “I thought (Lehner) was going to poke-check like most goalies do and swing his stick, so I was just trying to get it around his stick quick.
“When I was younger, when it wouldn’t be too frowned upon in junior or youth hockey or anything like that, I did it a lot. But I haven’t practiced it much at the NHL level.”
Does he think it’s looked down upon now?
“I don’t know — I’d have the argument that’s the only way to get the shot off there,” added Tkachuk, who set a career high with his 25th.
No apologies necessary from a creative and gritty player who may just be the league’s most dangerous weapon in front of the net.
“He probably learned it from his brother or something,” laughed Rasmus Andersson, who added an insurance marker late in the evening with a point blast that beat Lehner through the legs clean.
“I like it — I don’t frown on any goals-for,” added coach Bill Peters when asked if he was okay with Tkachuk’s cheeky snipe. “Goals-against I frown on. Goals-for, I’m wide open. Guys are skilled, guys are creative and we’re not going to stifle that.”
Andersson’s blast was a bit of a thank-you of sorts to management from the 22-year-old Swedish defenceman who was sought after by almost every team the Flames talked trade with before Monday’s swap deadline.
Flames GM Brad Treliving decided he wasn’t willing to give up any of the team’s top young players for a rental, giving a vote of confidence to the players who’ve lifted Calgary to the second-best record in hockey.
With that in mind, there were no adjustments for new guys, no feeling-out process, learning on the fly or foreign line combos. The same team that entered the trade deadline on a five-game streak made it six to extend its lead atop the west to five points.
Oh sure, the one newbie, Oscar Fantenberg, showed up for the morning skate with his L.A. Kings bag in tow. But after skating with the club, he promptly took a seat in the press box. It’s something he may have to get used to, as the 27-year-old Swedish deadline acquisition is here strictly as a deep, depth defenceman.
He watched Smith put on a clinic in the second period when he made 11 of his 26 saves to post his fifth-straight win and second-straight one-goal game. Although brilliant under siege through two busy penalty kills that frame, it was a sprawling glove save on a rebound with just over a minute to go in the game that was his finest moment.
It also appeared to perhaps be the costliest too, as the red-hot netminder lay prone on the ice for several seconds before gingerly getting to his feet.
It was eerily similar to the awkward play with five seconds to go in a win against the Isles last year in Brooklyn that sidelined him for a month and derailed the Flames playoff hopes.
“I’ll be okay,” he said, downplaying the drama.
“We’re obviously finding ways to win close hockey games but we’re doing it the right way. We’ve played really solid defensively and we’re getting rewarded because of it.”
That’s three straight games the Flames have allowed just one goal. Only once in their last seven have they given up more than two — a positive development for a team insisting it had to tighten up defensively for the playoff stretch.
Every bit as impressive was the team’s latest third-period thrust, turning a 1-1 game in front of a raucous Nassau Coliseum crowd into the late victory thanks to goals two minutes apart by Mikael Backlund and Andersson.
Yet, the talk afterward revolved around Tkachuk’s niftiness. Did he get much feedback from his mates?
“Not that much — just get back to playing,” he chuckled, sheepishly.
“Smitty’s save stole the night — lets just say that.”