Down 2-1 in Battle of Alberta, Flames need to make series all about them

Gene Principe, Eric Francis, and Mark Spector discuss Calgary Flames forward Milan Lucic's hit on Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith, detail how incredible Evander Kane has been since joining the Oilers, and more.

EDMONTON – It’s symbolic that perhaps the finest execution by a Calgary Flames player over the long weekend came on an off-day.

It came from Milan Lucic, who was asked if maturity is what prevented him from finishing his check on Mike Smith quite like he did so violently against Ryan Miller a decade earlier. 

"I definitely wasn't trying to hit him, I was braking,” explained Lucic, who was tossed from his club’s Game 3 loss, but won’t be suspended.

“I think I agree with Darryl in the sense that if I actually did charge, we both wouldn't be playing tomorrow. So, yes ... maturity. Yes."

He smiled.

A mature approach is definitely what’s needed from a relatively inexperienced Flames team hoping to change the narrative in a series that saw the Oilers score eight straight goals over Games 2 and 3 to take a 2-1 lead.

Save for two slow starts, McDavid and his top line have spent the bulk of the time putting the Flames on their heels in a high-scoring series that doesn’t favour the Flames.  

What’s needed now is for the Flames to flip the script by returning to the physical, forecheck-first possession game that led them to the division title.

Their tight-checking approach was what got them through Round 1 when they faced a similar series deficit against Dallas.

But as Mike Tyson so famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

Well, Connor McDavid and the Oilers have suckered the Flames by dictating the style of play in a series that has been far too run-and-gun for Calgary’s liking.

“Maybe our focus has been a little bit too much on the Oilers and kind of started playing their game a little more than we've wanted to play our game,” said Lucic of a club that needs to navel-gaze as the rest of the hockey world fixates on McDavid’s dominance.

“You've got to give them credit as well. They've played really well these first three games. All our energy and focus has to go into finding our game. When we do that, we give ourselves a really good chance to win."

The old “It’s not you, it’s me” line applies. 

Such is post-season life in the NHL, where the team that more effectively imposes its style of play on the other invariably moves on.  

In the media and on the ice, it seems the Flames are spending an inordinate amount of energy on McDavid’s mastery, which has him challenging NHL playoff record books with a run that has seen him dissect the Flames with nine points in three games.

Like Jake Oettinger last round, this series has become all about one player, in this case the Oilers captain.

The Flames need to make it about them, which is easier said than done.

“Especially against a guy like Connor and the Oilers, if you want to out-skill them and outscore them, good luck,” said Lucic.

“Give up four-plus goals the first three games, that's not a very good trait, especially when we were the second-best defensive team in the league this year. We've got to just focus on what we need to do as a group and what our foundation is and what our identity is in order to get it to our game."

That means low-scoring, low-event hockey, which requires being extremely aware of when and where McDavid is on the ice.

But not to the point of distraction.

“I know from playing with them and now playing against them, they have great chemistry when they're on the ice together,” said Lucic of former Oilers teammates McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

“They know where each other is at all times. They're really good at one-on-one, playing give-and-go and all that type of stuff. That's where puck possession comes into play, and it's huge in this series. If we have the puck, they can't make the plays. And it's all five guys that are on the ice that have to check those guys. That's something we have to do better moving forward."

It certainly appears it will take a village to stop McDavid these days.

“It’s not about the opponent you play, it’s about what we do,” said Flames associate coach Kirk Muller.

“People have done a pretty good job of talking about these two, and rightly so, they’ve done a great job. They’ve had a good playoffs so far. But I think we have to look at the big picture and look at ourselves and what we can do and what we do well. 

“I think if we do that, we’ll have a different outcome. We’re really focused on our group right now.” 

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