Despite what standings say, Flames see Golden Knights as best in West

Evgenii Dadonov scored the eventual game-winner as the Vegas Golden Knights held off a late Calgary Flames push for the 3-2 win.

LAS VEGAS -- The Calgary Flames spent a portion of the weekend at the top of the NHL standings, but the way Darryl Sutter sees it, the Vegas Golden Knights are clearly the team to beat.


“Well, they’re the best team on paper,” said Sutter, following his team’s 3-2 loss at T-Mobile Arena, where the Flames are now 0-for-7.

“They’re clearly the best team out west, maybe other than the team that owns the Stanley Cup, if you look at it.

“If you want to get out of (the West) you’re going to have to go through here. Or if you want to get in, you’re going to have to beat this team.

“It’s not even that close, to tell you the truth.”

The first two periods of Sunday’s game spoke to that, as the hosts controlled the play much the same as they have every single time the Flames have visited The Fortress.

Never mind the fact Vegas sits fourth in the Pacific Division, it’s a club that is finally healthy again and poised to start rolling.

Nothing like a home game against Calgary to ensure that.

With William Karlsson returning to a lineup that also has Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty healthy again, the Knights posted seven high danger scoring chances 5-on-5 against the Flames in the first two periods.

The Flames had none.

Yet, the Flames trailed only 1-0 in a game Jacob Markstrom did well to keep his team alive.

Fighting back from 2-0 and 3-1 down in the third, the Flames made a valiant attempt to steal a point after Andrew Mangiapane made it 3-2 with the goalie pulled and just under three minutes remaining.

Matthew Tkachuk rang one off the crossbar in the final minute, making it the third time on the night they found iron in a losing cause.

Sutter said he was happy with the effort in what he deemed an even affair, which is a generous assessment given how long it took the Flames to “find their legs” as Mangiapane put it.

In a building in which the Flames had been outscored 27-6 in six previous meetings, this represented a baby step, of sorts, for a Calgary club that has demonstrated in many ways it’s on the cusp of a breakthrough.

Waiting two periods before a big push demonstrated they’re not quite there yet.

“It's good to have that little push at the end there, but we shouldn't be in that situation,” said Mangiapane, who has racked up all but one of his 17 goals on the road, where the Flames are still a league-best 11-3-2.

“It's better early on here that we get almost -- I don't want to say comfortable -- but know that we can come back from it. We've got to play the right way and chances will still be there for us and not to give up.

“We've got to figure it out, how to win in this barn.”

It's an issue every Flames fan is aware of, especially those who’ve been lucky enough to experience the noise, theatre and intimidating nature of the league’s toughest barn to visit.

It helps that the team is consistently one of the NHL’s best, too.

“Yep, 100 per cent,” said Chris Tanev, whose club is still tied for tops in the West at 15-5-5.

“You just look at what they've done the last few years. Obviously, Finals, Western Conference Finals, I think Western Conference Finals in the bubble again. They're very experienced, very skilled and they play fast and obviously that's the next step for us, is being able to come into buildings like this where it's a fun, hostile environment, but to be able to get points in these types of situations.”

They came close, as a Rasmus Andersson breakaway deke had Robin Lehner beat, only to see his shot bounce off the netminder’s toe and the post before being cleared off the goal line with six minutes remaining.

Playing their third game in four nights as part of a four-game western road swing, the Flames deserve credit for sticking with a system and style of play they know is capable of getting them back into games late.

This was another baby step along the way for a Flames team continually proving they have the mindset, structure and goaltending to be a consistent enough team to battle with league leaders on any terms.

Alas, Vegas is still their kryptonite, thanks, in part, to one of the only crowds in the league not affected by a significant drop in attendance.

A win here will eventually mark a monumental hurdle they'll overcome.

They won’t get another crack until next season… unless the Flames' playoff fortunes can get them back to Sin City.

“They’ve been a premier team in the West for years,” said Tkachuk, whose linemate, Elias Lindholm narrowed the lead to 2-1 midway through, before Evgenii Dadonov scored a minute-and-a-half later.

“Different team, but coming here is still a tough place to play and most of their core has been there for a while. Great players that play hard in front of their goalie and played solid tonight -- didn’t give us much until the end.”

Demonstrating just how resilient the Flames were, a Tkachuk double minor with eight minutes left in a game they trailed by two appeared to put the game out of reach.

However, Andersson’s breakaway followed, as did Mangiapane’s goal and a flurry of late chances that bode well for the team’s confidence.

Coming into the game with five straight road wins, the Flames will try starting another streak Tuesday in San Jose before returning home.

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