With 14 minutes left in a tight game the Flames had to win, Noah Hanifin came up lame after sliding awkwardly into the boards.
Rocked by the painful impact, he scuffled to the bench where he immediately indicated he needed to get to the dressing room on the other side of the ice.
At the next whistle, with athletic therapist Kent Kobelka trailing behind, the stunned defenceman slowly made his way off while hunched slightly and in significant discomfort.
That’s how the Flames limped home Friday night.
The wind knocked out of them by a 2-1 loss that may just be their death knell, the lads were the first to admit, this one hurt.
Especially since the flow of play dictated they probably deserved better.
“Yeah, but tough business,” said Mikael Backlund when asked if they felt they should have earned a better fate.
“We all know it’s not how it works. Effort is there. We played well enough to win, but didn’t find a way to do it. It’s a tough one for sure.”
No one needed to explain to the Flames or their remaining fans the implications of leaving Montreal with anything less than two wins.
Chasing the fourth-place team that was four points ahead with three games in hand, they knew time was running out on their faint playoff hopes.
Now it’s a six-point deficit with a dozen games left, and the writing on the wall was splattered across the players' faces as they left the Bell Centre ice.
A win would have closed the gap to two, applied relentless pressure on a reeling Habs squad and set up a fascinating three-game set in Calgary between the two teams next weekend.
However, Tyler Toffoli’s second goal of the game, coming with four minutes left was a fatal blow in Calgary’s playoff chase.
“We needed four points - two regulation wins,” said Elias Lindholm of the bottom line.
“We only got one win and we are disappointed. It just didn’t matter how it looked.”
It looked good early on as the Flames opened with yet another relentless first period that saw the club exuding the confidence it earned from three straight wins, including a triumph two nights earlier in Montreal.
Scoreless after one, Toffoli was left alone in the slot to convert a Nick Suzuki pass midway through the second.
A power play minutes later saw both Rasmus Andersson and Johnny Gaudreau ring rockets off the iron within a 30-second span that had Jake Allen scrambling to preserve the lead.
Minutes after that Matthew Tkachuk’s backhand deke also found the post as part of a frustrating foray that saw Lindholm's line with Tkachuk and Gaudreau buzzing.
“I think obviously tonight we had chances all game and then I can’t put one in that’s supposed to go in the corner,” said Lindholm, who was robbed from point blank by a sprawling Allen.
“Chucky hit the post and Johnny had a bar and both me and Chucky missed that open netter (during a net-front scramble). It’s funny how it works. Sometimes they go in and sometimes they don’t.”
To be fair, in a world in which you generally make your own breaks, the Flames know deep in their minds they were fortunate two nights earlier when the Canadiens hit two posts at key moments of a 4-1 loss.
And Lindholm’s game-tying goal early in the third period came from his knees when a backhand sailing several feet wide bounced in off of Ben Chiarot.
Nonetheless, the game was up for grabs for the bulk of the third period before Toffoli’s deflection of a Joel Armia centering pass beat Jacob Markstrom with four minutes remaining.
A frustrating and deadly setback for a team that was just starting to feel they were capable of shocking the world after being written off by most.
“Yeah, it has been all year,” agreed Backlund, whose club plays just once (Monday at home against Ottawa) before next Friday’s rematch with Montreal.
“Especially now, we put ourselves in this position. We haven’t had the season we wanted but played better of late. These games against Montreal were crucial, so it feels real really sour to lose today. It’s really disappointing. A tough loss.”