Unlike most things that have happened to the Calgary Flames this season, this one you could see coming.
A loss in Colorado seemed inevitable for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact the Avalanche are the class of the NHL and owners of the league’s best home record.
Playing their sixth game in nine nights, the Flames arrived in Denver in the wee hours of Sunday morning for a game with an early puck drop on a day when all of us in daylight saving time were shortchanged an hour.
Oh, and then there’s the fact the well-rested Avalanche felt they had a score to settle with a Flames team that beat them in overtime eight days earlier using a backup goalie who was destined to get the start again.
Yet, given the fact the Flames are the NHL’s hottest team over the last six weeks, there was still hope.
Although they gave up a power-play goal to Nathan MacKinnon midway through the opening period, hope lasted well into the third period of a one-goal game the Flames fought hard to stay in despite the circumstances.
MacKinnon’s second of the game, scored early in the third period off a faceoff scramble, was later capped by a Mikko Rantanen empty-netter that sealed a 3-0 win for the Avs.
"I'm sure it did (have an effect),” said Sutter of a rugged stretch in which the Flames went 4-2, including wins over the Avs, Edmonton Oilers, defending champ Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings less than 24 hours earlier.
“We've played a lot of games in a short amount of time. The way the schedule is this year, it happens lots to teams. You're very seldom critiquing effort. You're criticizing the schedule than anything else. I'm sure they'd say the same thing. They're coming off those three games (out) east and get a day off. It makes a big difference. They're people, right? They're not machines, these kids. I don't think many teams question how hard their teams play."
The effort was certainly there for a Flames team that came out in front of Dan Vladar with a shocking amount of energy and physicality in a game they knew would have more pace than normal.
It set the tone for a night that saw the Flames outshoot the hosts 46-32, only to be blanked for the first time this season.
A bounce here or there and the Flames might have stolen a point.
Much like it was eight days earlier, it was intense, skilled, fast-paced hockey between two teams that many hope will meet up in the Western Conference final.
The hockey world is already looking forward to the rubber match in Calgary on March 29.
"It's playoff-type hockey right now,” said Trevor Lewis.
“Those are going to be the games like playoffs, so you've got to make sure you get that extra push in the third and bear down on our opportunities. It's a lot of games, but we kept it close there. It was 1-0 going into the third and had a power play and couldn't capitalize on it. We just need that little extra oomph tonight and couldn't seem to find it there."
The Flames’ top line was dangerous all night, but it was Vladar who was the Flames' best player, keeping the score close with several stellar stops. Both MacKinnon goals beat the backup under his blocker, but he was equal to the task on three other shots from the Avs star, who was in full beast mode once again.
"I think it was a hard-fought game,” added Sutter, whose club lost some early momentum with a Nikita Zadorov penalty against his former team that opened the door for MacKinnon’s first strike.
“They scored a power-play goal — it was a weak goal, to be quite honest. I thought we battled and played hard. I had no issues with our game at all. I thought we worked hard and were an honest team tonight. Their big guys scored, ours didn't. At the end of the day, look at it, who scored the goals. They're a little more skilled than we are in terms of playing in low, close games. When that happens, your big guys have to finish your opportunities. We had opportunities for it to be 1-1. It's 1-0 going into the third — it's perfect. It's what it is. It's a perfect situation for you.”
Darcy Kuemper's 46-save shutout served as a measure of revenge for the veteran who was pulled after allowing three goals in their previous meeting.
Oliver Kylington missed his second straight game with a lower-body injury, giving Michael Stone a chance to play almost 19 minutes in his fourth game of the season.
It prompted the club to summon Connor Mackey from the minors, forcing them to send Adam Ruzicka down.
The Flames are off until Wednesday when they host the New Jersey Devils.