Flames humbled by Panthers: 'That’s a different level of team'

Patric Hornqvist had two goals to help the Florida Panthers defeat the Calgary Flames 6-2.

Humbled in the humidity of south Florida, Darryl Sutter wasn’t about to sugarcoat the setback.

“There’s not a post-season if you play like you did tonight,” said the Flames coach of a 6-2 loss to the Florida Panthers. “That’s a different level of team. We’re not there yet.

“We had some guys that couldn’t take the size and couldn’t take the speed of the other team. We’ve seen it other times this year against teams like that.”

A pre-Christmas loss in Vegas comes instantly to mind, where Sutter also told fans just how far the Flames still have to go to be the team he’s trying to build.

Entering the game with the second-highest winning percentage in the west, the Calgary Flames walked out of FLA Live Arena like so many other clubs have this season, reminded just how far they are from being a legitimate contender like the Panthers are.

“It was a little bit of a reality check,” said Matthew Tkachuk. “That’s a measuring stick type of game and obviously we didn’t measure up very well today. But I think there’s no greater challenge for us than to play the defending champs for two years in a row next game. There’s no excuse not to get up for that game.”

Up next, the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday night, followed by their third test in four nights coming Friday in Carolina.

The tests keep coming.

“You’re not going to win many games when you give up six,” added Tkachuk, whose second-ranked defensive club hadn’t previously given up a half dozen in any game this season.

"We left Marky (Jacob Markstrom) out to dry on pretty much all of them, whether it’s turnovers, or not picking up guys or not getting pucks out, or not having your guy. We lost each period.

"It’s not a recipe for success, how we played tonight.

"Hopefully it’s just a one-off."

Flames fans taking solace in the fact that Calgary outshot the league’s second-most potent team 49-45 need to be reminded that track meets aren’t the sort of events the Flames will generally win.

The bigger, faster and more experienced Panthers controlled a good portion of this one, as the score suggests.

And they did it with six regulars out of the lineup, including second-line Sams: Bennett (suspension) and Reinhart (COVID-19).

Yet, despite being down 2-1 midway through the first, the Panthers easily battled back to up their home record to a league-best 18-3-0.

“That’s a different level of team than we’ve played lately -- that’s a team that’s built and meant for playoff hockey,” said Sutter, whose club entered the game feeling pretty good with post-Christmas/COVID wins against bottom-feeding Chicago and Seattle.

“We had some guys that didn’t meet that sort of challenge in terms of the individual, one-on-one stuff. You give up that many goals you’re not going to win. We had some defencemen that weren’t into the defending or checking part of the game and it cost us the hockey game.”

As much as the Flames have turned their franchise around this season, they’re not Florida good.

“I think they’re one of the best teams in the league we have played, yes,” said Tkachuk. “We know we can play a lot better than we did tonight and we think there could be a different result. There definitely could be a different result than giving up six and kind of getting crushed like we did.”

Perhaps the scariest part of the setback for Flames fans is the fact it wasn’t Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov doing all the damage.

The dynamic duo was held to one assist, while lesser lights like Patric Hornqvist (with two), Joe Thornton, Lucas Carlsson, Anthony Duclair and longtime Flames farmhand Ryan Lomberg scored.

Jacked up to return to the swamp where his hatred for the Panthers came naturally while playing in Tampa, Blake Coleman followed up a Johnny Gaudreau goal with his fifth of the year, as part of his best performance as a Flame.

Involved in endless scrums, crease crashings and board meetings, Coleman had a career-high 12 shots on goal, prompting Sutter to give him post-game kudos.

Markstrom had to deal with endless traffic in front of his net, as part of an outing that may make it easier to start Dan Vladar in Tampa.

“There’s nights where your goalie has to be better than the other team’s goalie and that’s part of the whole process of this team not getting ahead of itself,” said Sutter.

“I can say the defence, but you can say goalie vs. goalie, defenceman vs. defenceman… you can go right down the line. That’s what happens in (playoff) series and that’s where this team is still learning about how to stay in the conversation to be a playoff team.”

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