Undisciplined Flames follow familiar script in Game 2 loss

Nikolaj Ehlers gets the game winner off of a shot from Neal Pionk, the Winnipeg Jets beat the Calgary Flames to even the series at one a piece.

EDMONTON – The first was a completely unnecessary crosscheck off the draw.

Heck, the puck hadn’t even been dropped when Sam Bennett applied lumber to Jansen Harkins so forcefully the referee couldn’t ignore it.

The second involved a collection of Andrew Mangiapane crosschecks to the back of fallen Cody Eakin that were so violent you’d swear the Calgary Flames winger was trying to break his stick so his dad would buy a new one.

Both egregiously ill-conceived transgressions came in the final 10 minutes of an intense game the Flames were so desperately trying to tie.

Inexperience shining through.

Opportunity lost.

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With a chance to bury a Jets team missing injured snipers Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine, the Flames squandered a two-goal comeback with a pair of late penalties that spoke to the team’s recent history of playoff failures.

And now, with the best-of-five series tied 1-1 and the very real threat of a Scheifele return as early as Game 3 Tuesday, Flames fans have every reason to start wondering if the ghosts of past playoffs are already starting to rear their ugly heads.

In last year’s playoffs the Colorado Avalanche bounced back from an opening loss to sweep the next four on the power of a similarly tight second game that finished – you guessed it – by the same 3-2 score the Flames fell short on Monday by.

As the Flames demonstrated then, the easiest way to ensure your own demise is to contribute to it with your own mental meltdowns.

For those keeping track, that’s 11 losses in Calgary’s last 13 playoff games.

“Things we need to focus on (Tuesday) — our discipline has got to be there,” said Flames interim coach Geoff Ward.

“We took a couple penalties, especially late, that weren’t necessary, that put us in shorthanded situations. It’s an emotional time, for sure. At the same time you can’t put your team at risk. In those situations, there’s absolutely nothing going on, and we put ourselves down. We’ve got to be a little bit more aware and smarter there, and allow ourselves to continue to play five-on-five.”

Bennett’s latest in a career of bad penalties tainted an otherwise stellar outing that saw the team’s physical leader play the hero late in the second when he completed the two-goal comeback with a great solo effort that beat Connor Hellebuyck with a lucky bounce.

Mangiapane’s meltdown came with 2:31 left after he was rocked from behind, enraging the youngster who had two points in Game 1, and a game-high seven hits in Game 2.

Great efforts marred by late overindulgences.

Both need to be smarter, and they know it.

Unlike two nights earlier when the Flames used two power play goals (and a shorty) to win 4-1, Game 2 saw the Flames’ power play go scoreless in four tries.

Nikolaj Ehlers’ game-winner came with the man advantage midway through the third period of a tight game that had the Flames chasing most of the evening.

Not what Flames observers expected, given the absence of two Jets studs who combined for 57 goals this season, sending all four lines into disarray.

“We didn’t take them lightly — we knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” said Mark Giordano, whose club operated under its typical early deficit seven minutes in when Harkins victimized the Flames’ top defensive pairing with a breakaway snipe.

“Obviously, there was a great opportunity for us, but all we can do now is look at the next one. It was a hard-fought game. I thought we battled hard to get back to tied. Unfortunately, we came out on the wrong end, but we’ll get right back at it (Tuesday).”

The Flames insist they knew the Jets would come with a bigger push after allowing four unanswered goals in Game 1.

“We knew they were going to play hard to avoid an 0-2 situation,” said Milan Lucic. “They got that one on the power play and our power play wasn’t able to capitalize tonight. It just felt like we were grinding to get back into the game all night long.”

Sure did.

Down 2-0 five minutes into the second period, Elias Lindholm responded midway through the early afternoon game to breathe life into a Flames team that counted on timely saves from Cam Talbot throughout.

Had the team been more disciplined or capitalized on its power plays the complexion of the game could have been different.

An undisciplined crosscheck by Zac Rinaldo early in the second put the Flames down two men for a full two minutes, putting his spot in the lineup in jeopardy for Game 3.

Finding that right balance of aggressiveness in the playoffs can be the difference between winning and losing a series.

“It’s a pretty fine line right now, it’s tough to figure out what they’re going to call and what they’re not going to call,” said Bennett, whose club is the most inexperienced playoff team in the 24-squad tourney.

“I was just battling there, and I guess I got too aggressive and the ref decided he didn’t like it. I take responsibility and that’s just the way it was.

“It definitely would have been huge to go up 2-0 in the series. But, we’re still completely confident in our group. We played two really hard games and we’re still in a good position here. We really just have to reset and worry about (Tuesday’s) game because it’s going to be a huge one.”

Puck drop is 4:45 p.m. MT on Sportsnet.

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