The newfound swagger is undeniable.
So is the fact Darryl Sutter has found a way to tap into the all-for-one and one-for-all attitude it will take for the Calgary Flames to continue chasing down a playoff spot.
On Monday night the team extended its winning streak to three under Sutter, employing a swarming defensive structure that put a stop to the traditional dominance Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have had over their southern rivals.
Sure, the duo hooked up for a goal that tied the game 3-3 early in the third.
But instead of wilting, as the team would have done earlier this year when surrendering a 3-1 lead, a gorgeous finish from Noah Hanifin one minute later was good enough for the Flames to continue rolling with a 4-3 win.
“It's a great sign,” said Hanifin, who scored his third goal in five outings by collecting a great drop pass from Andrew Mangiapane and roofing it over Mike Smith’s blocker.
“Obviously we’ve dealt with some adversity and with Darryl coming in we’ve rebounded pretty well and put together a few big games. I think guys are starting to play their roles, compete, and work hard and play a full 60 minutes. We’ve got a deep team and I think we’re doing a good job utilizing everybody. We’ve still got some ways to climb a bit, but we’re going in the right direction.”
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 16, 2021
Now just five points behind the third-place Oilers with two games in hand, the Flames sit just two back of Montreal for the fourth spot.
On this night they got there with significant efforts from a long list of contributors, backing Sutter’s recent assertion that his team isn’t exactly star-studded compared to divisional rivals.
• Mikael Backlund did well to shut down the Oilers' big guns, adding two assists in the process. Stick tap to all his teammates for a commitment to defence that held the Oilers to four first period shots.
• Brett Ritchie responded to a first period headshot from Jujhar Khaira on a prone Oliver Kylington by dropping the mitts with the Oilers mucker. The towering Ritchie quickly knocked Khaira out, prompting him to need help leaving the ice due to a potential concussion. Khaira will likely face some disciplinary action from the league for the hit.
• Kylington left the game to be checked out but returned with a dashing offensive foray that set up Lindholm’s goal, putting the Flames up 2-0 early in a five-goal second period.
• Jacob Markstrom made 28 saves, but none bigger than the blocker stop on Jesse Puljujarvi in the final minute of the game.
• Milan Lucic acquitted himself well on the shutdown line, adding some offence by stealing the puck from a wandering Smith late in the second period before feeding Mangiapane to put the Flames up 3-1.
Nine periods into the latest Sutter era the Flames have yet to trail, which is a significant development for a team known for its slow starts and wild inconsistencies.
They’ve held on tight to third-period leads, kept scoring chances to a minimum and on Monday stepped up -- literally -- when the momentum had a chance at reversing on them.
That’s when Hanifin joined the rush for his game-winner.
“It was a huge response," said the 24-year-old defenceman who continues to find more opportunities to explore his offensive game. "When you're playing a team like that, the game's going to be really intense and it's going to go back and forth a bit. It was a huge rebound for us."
Lindholm’s reversal of fortune on McDavid to set up Dube’s goal was an equally impressive effort, which fits into Sutter’s increased demands on his centres to control play.
“I just tried to get back as soon as McDavid got the puck, and he’s a little bit faster than me,” chuckled Lindholm, who stripped a streaking McDavid of the puck and sent Dube in alone.
“It is a great track and he created all of it -- to be able to turn that puck over was huge,” added Dube, who beat Smith between the legs. “They had a lot of speed going the other way and had numbers.”
Forever asking his players for more, Sutter reiterated the numbers in the big picture still aren’t what they need to be.
“We’re still behind the eight-ball and if this was our last game of the year we can say we won but we didn’t make the playoffs,” said Sutter, whose club hosts Edmonton again Wednesday.
“There’s lots of things we can get better at.”