Early deficits, frantic comebacks becoming all too familiar for Flames

Ilya Mikheyev picked up a pair of points and Nikita Zadorov stuck it to his former team with an assist on what would end up being the game-winning goal into the empty net in the Vancouver Canucks' 4-3 win over the Calgary Flames.

CALGARY — Booed every time he touched the puck, Nikita Zadorov‘s cheeky response came minutes after getting the last laugh.

“I mean, I’m going to miss ‘Country Roads,’ definitely,” smiled the Flame-turned-Canuck of the age-old ditty Calgary fans love to sing along to.

“I think Calgary has great fans.”

What he won’t miss is the constant grind that comes with playing behind most nights.

The Calgary Flames have become all too familiar with it.

For the 12th time in the last 14 games the Flames allowed the first goal Saturday night — a Quinn Hughes snipe just two minutes in.

By the nine-minute mark they were down 2-0.

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Even for a team that crafted seven of its eight November wins in comeback fashion, eventually you’ll run out of runway.

“It’s not a recipe for success, that’s for sure,” said head coach Ryan Huska following his team’s 4-3 loss to Zadorov’s Vancouver Canucks.

“I like what guys do when they get behind. They stay with it.

“But we’re finding ourselves in that position a little bit too often.”

Full marks for the magic they’ve found in each of their last four wins, which all saw the Flames overcome third-period deficits.

They’re on an 8-4-2 run despite trailing in all but one of those games.

But this time, against a deep, confident Canucks club that can skate with anyone, the magic ran out.

Not even two power-play goals, from a team that entered on a 1-for-34 skid, could close the gap.

“Yeah, it’s a dangerous game to play— we have to come out better in the first,” said Elias Lindholm, whose power-play goal with 54 seconds left got the Flames within one.

“I mean, we would like to play with the lead.

“It just seems to be that way right now, we seem to be down a lot and come back.

“We ran out of luck today.”

Tied for fifth in the league by allowing the first goal 15 times, the Flames have trailed longer in games than all but two teams.

According to Sportsnet Stats, the Flames have now trailed in 49.96 per cent of game time this season — the third highest.

“It’s frustrating and it’s hard,” said Lindholm of chasing games at the NHL level.

“Overall, I think we’ve done a good job throughout the season and especially lately, but we have to be more hungry in the first and more hungry to get the lead in the beginning there.

“And once we get it, I think we’re a comfortable and mature group to play with the lead.

“But we just gotta get it.”

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A Mikael Backlund power-play goal midway through the second gave the Flames and the crowd life, but Ilya Mikheyev silenced the joint with a goal in the final minutes of the second.

The Flames shortened their bench in the third, with the coaches deciding to sit Andrew Mangiapane for all but two minutes of the final frame.

Lindholm got the Flames within one with five minutes left, before Zadorov appeared to score the empty netter to salt it away.

Traded by the Flames two days earlier and chided by fans for the trade demand that promoted it, Zadorov appeared to take great satisfaction as it was announced he’d scored on rink-length clearing pass that took an awfully lucky bounce to find the net with 80 seconds left.

Alas, as the big man was quick to point out after the game, Elias Pettersson deflected it as it left the zone.

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Paired with his former Sabres partner Tyler Myers to form the tallest duo in the league, Zadorov said earlier in the day he didn’t regret the decision to take his trade request public, saying, “I’m happy where I’m at now.”

Asked why he went from wanting to be a Flame for life last spring to wanting out, he explained it had to do with the fact the Flames never offered him a contract.

All water under the bridge, as he seemed to enjoy facing his old pals, joking at one point he needed to get into better shape to handle the altitude.

“They were chirping me, it’s fun,” he said after playing 17 minutes and finishing plus-two.

“It’s between us. I love them. They love me. It’s a mutual relationship. I had fun playing against them today.

“Those past couple days were pretty emotional.

“I’m glad now it’s a new page.”

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