EDMONTON – Darryl Sutter has heard all the theories surrounding the series, and he isn’t buying any of them.
“We’ve got to win a game on the road at some point,” said the Flames coach, whose club is down 2-1 in a series against a surging Oilers squad. Game 4 is Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. ET / 7:30 p.m. MT and can be seen on Sportsnet.
“Everybody's got all these philosophies on how we're supposed to play or what we're supposed to do. We've got to play a good road game, and it's very difficult. We might play our best game of the year tonight. But do you win, or do you lose? We find out."
Because the Flames lost Game 2 at home, they do indeed need to win at least one game at Rogers Place if they are going to win the provincial battle. And although Calgary had one of the NHL’s best road records during the season, the Flames are 1-3 on the road this spring, getting outscored 13-9.
Sutter said the atmosphere last game proved to be a tad overwhelming for some of his younger players, before insisting his goalie wasn’t one of them.
“He hasn’t been hung out to dry,” said Sutter, who pulled Jacob Markstrom with the club down 4-0 in Game 3.
“In fact, last game was his best game.”
Of the 16 times Markstrom allowed four or more goals this season, six of them were against the Oilers. Only one other team did it more than once against him.
So far, the leading candidate for best quote in this series goes to Milan Lucic, who quipped on Monday of his so-called charging on Oilers goalie Mike Smith, “If I did charge him, we both wouldn’t be playing (tonight).”
In fact, there has been far less extracurricular stuff than we expected from this series. Zack Kassian was asked on Monday if there would be the same retribution for Lucic in a playoff game that there might normally be if this was a regular season affair.
“The score dictates a lot of the shenanigans that happen out there,” Kassian said. “We won the game, we’re happy we won the game. Today's a new game and it's a big game.”
Here’s our prediction: The Flames have vowed to get back to the game that got them here, and that is a physical brand of hockey. Calgary will bring everything they have Tuesday night, trailing the series 2-1, and that means more “shenanigans” than we’ve had in the first three games.
“That’s a narrative you (media) guys are playing,” said Kassian, who wouldn’t bite on our theory. “We’re here to win a series. The way we’ve played the last two games, we need to continue to play that way. We need to be disciplined and we need to play fast.
“We need to stay out of the crap.”
Recent Game 4 memories differ between these two Alberta clubs.
The Flames won Game 4 at Dallas to even their first-round series against the Stars, while the Oilers won Games 2 and 3 against Los Angeles by a combined score of 14-2, then got shut out by Jonathan Quick in a 4-0 Game 4 loss on the road.
“We can learn from the last series,” said Oilers captain Connor McDavid. “Game 4 was probably our worst in the series, and I think it’s an opportunity for our group tonight to show that we’ve learned our lesson and bring our ‘A’ game tonight.”
We’ve seen these series swing back and forth for years. Edmonton has been able to dictate the style of play through Games 2 and 3, and now it’s the Flames' turn to grab hold of the way the series is being played.
The Oilers can expect a more difficult time getting through the neutral zone, fewer odd-man breaks than they had in Game 3 and a tougher road game mentality overall from Calgary. Which simply means that whatever Edmonton has been doing well so far, they’ll have to do even better to beat a desperate Flames side.
“We want to play our best game of the series tonight,” head coach Jay Woodcroft said. “Yesterday was about that, today is about that. For me, it comes down to doing simple things really, really well.
“I thought we did a good job of asserting our game plan on the other team,” he said of Game 3. “It's something that we set out to do every night, but our level of execution was excellent. We're going to need it tonight.”
Series by the numbers:
• Flames are 3-11 all-time in best-of-7 series when trailing the series 2-1 (2-7 when starting the series at home).
• Flames are 36-for-39 on the penalty kill this postseason. Their current 92.3 per cent PK would be their best in a single postseason in franchise history.
• The Flames are 0-2 this postseason when Johnny Gaudreau is held without a point, as he was in Game 3.
• The Flames have lost eight of their last nine games when Gaudreau is held without a point.
• The Oilers are 18-3 all-time in best-of-7 series when leading 2-1, but the Oilers have lost six straight Game 4s when holding a 2-1 series lead.
• McDavid has more points (23) and hits (33) through 10 games this postseason than he did in his previous 21 career postseason games. His 23 points in 10 games this year is one more than he had in his previous 21 career playoff games.
• Despite all the talk about how the Flames want to play this series 5-on-5, the Oilers are outscoring the Flames, 12-10, when both teams are at full-strength.