DALLAS — Smack dab in the middle of a statement game for the Calgary Flames came a shift several members of the Dallas Stars won’t soon forget.
Moments earlier the Flames had finally cracked the Jake Oettinger code with a bar down point blast from Rasmus Andersson while on a two-man advantage.
It was their 31st shot on net and it came at the game’s midway point for a 1-0 lead.
What followed was a powerful demonstration of just how dominant the Flames can be with the 5-on-5 forecheck they thrived on all season long.
Dominating possession in the Dallas zone with patient passing, several shots and big hits, the Flames toyed with the Stars for more than four minutes, almost entirely in the Stars' zone.
While the Flames made several line changes in the process, Jason Robertson, Tyler Seguin and Miro Heiskanen gasped for air, desperate to keep the puck out of their net as they skated in circles trying to diffuse the situation.
While Oettinger stood firm, the Stars endured the type of pressure the Flames became known for this year, cobbling together a momentum-building push that had Robertson stuck on the ice for an unheard of 4:20.
Seguin sucked air for 3:07, and Heiskanen endured a 2:45 sentence.
Longer than most Darryl Sutter pressers.
Even the lowest-intensity of beer league teams rarely see shifts like that.
“That was a hard shift for them, then they iced it and had to keep them out there,” said Sutter, following a 4-1 win that evened their series 2-2.
“A big point in the game there.”
Four games into the series and the Calgary Flames were finally flexing their offensive chops.
Sure, the period ended with the Flames up just 1-0 despite outshooting the hosts 39-22.
However, the Flames had finally figured out a way to penetrate the forcefield surrounding Oettinger the first three games.
Lots of traffic in front and plenty of point-blank chances.
Solving Oettinger again suddenly seemed inevitable, as opposed to impossible.
Midway through the third, a John Klingberg hook earned Johnny Gaudreau a penalty shot he made good on with a sweet forehand-to-backhand deke he finished between the 23-year-old’s legs.
“I was a tad nervous there to be honest with you,” smiled Gaudreau, who relieved some of the pressure heaped on him throughout the low-scoring series.
“I felt like he had my number there tonight. I had three or four really good opportunities to put the puck in the net. It was nice to find the net there and give us a two-goal lead.”
Soon thereafter he set up Elias Lindholm to put the game out of reach, giving the Flames home ice advantage in a best-of-three showdown starting Wednesday in Calgary.
“I feel like since Game 1 I’ve been playing well and hard against this team, but obviously results weren’t there,” said Gaudreau, who now has three assists and a goal in the four games.
“Last game had a breakaway with two minutes left and wanted that one back. And then tonight, little different story, found the back of the net.
“That’s the way hockey is. You can’t score 'em all but it was nice to help this team win tonight.
“The momentum is we’re going home and playing in front of our fans.”
They’ll do so with a bounce in their step and a red-hot goalie who made 34 saves.
The only shot that beat Jacob Markstrom all night was a Tyler Seguin power play finish with the game out of reach with five minutes remaining.
Despite all the hand wringing in Calgary the previous few days, the Flames fly home Tuesday with every reason to believe they can solve the smothering Stars.
Gaudreau’s six shots on goal included several Grade A chances the goalie robbed him on.
“He’s good on breakaways,” said Sutter, straight-faced, two nights after being critical for Gaudreau’s breakaway miss in the dying minutes.
“He’s got lots of different moves. This one worked.”
One game after making strides with 41 shots on Oettinger, the Flames peppered the Stars netminding revelation with 54 shots, reminiscent of the domination the Flames had grown accustomed to this season.
Oettinger had to be spectacular to keep it within reach, before the Flames broke the game open, thanks largely to The Shift.
“We had a good shift there, that’s what we can do 5-on-5,” said Andersson, whose club got an empty-netter from Mikael Backlund.
“For the most part I thought it was our game. We had around 50 shots on net and a lot of long shifts in their zone. We didn’t take too many penalties and we got to play 5-on-5 and that’s where we are a really good team.”
The Flames’ jump was evident from the opening puck drop, outshooting the hosts 19-8, which included a glove snare on Tyler Toffoli from five feet out that drew a roar from the crowd at American Airlines Center.
“Listen, he was the only reason we were in the game," said Stars coach Rick Bowness of his netminder.
"I told the coaches after the game that 'we just wasted a great goaltending performance.' Their guy made some big saves, he didn’t get a lot of them but he made some big saves at the right time. Otter was outstanding and so that’s why it was 1-0 going into the third and we had some looks to make it 1-1 and then they got the penalty shot.”
By night’s end, every single Flame recorded at least one shot on goal, including Michael Stone who made his playoff debut with a game-high eight shots. Sutter chose to play with seven defencemen at the expense of 12th forward Brett Ritchie.
Sutter said he was worried the group was a tired bunch since playing short a defenceman in Game 1 when Andersson was tossed early.
“Pretty solid game for us tonight — pretty similar to the last couple,” summed up Sutter, reminding everyone his message was simply to stay the course.
“The strength of our game is 5-on-5, I’ve said it lots. Our special teams are a function of what we do 5-on-5.”