Flames finally return to top form with big win over red-hot Panthers

Sean Monahan scored twice, Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk added to their season tallies, and the Calgary Flames defeated the Florida Panthers 5-1.

Four points for Johnny Gaudreau, three for Matthew Tkachuk, two for the Calgary Flames and one hell of a way to snap a four-game losing skid.

Forget about measuring-stick games, this was simply a measured approach to the type of game the Flames needed to get back to.

Few could have predicted they’d do it against Sam Bennett and the white-hot Florida Panthers, who’ve spent the last month averaging six goals a game.

Yet, there they were, returning to the recipe that had the Flames atop the NHL standings six weeks earlier, winning 5-1 over a team that stood at the top entering play on Tuesday night.

Showing no signs of the play that landed them losses in eight of their previous 10, the Flames got back to the complete team effort that has eluded them the last month.

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Everything wrong with the club of late went right Tuesday.

Consider:

• The power play, which has limped into 2022, scored twice early, including the game-opener less than five minutes in when Rasmus Andersson scored his first of the season.

• Sean Monahan, who has been struggling all season , scored twice, and made several big plays to remind people of the finish he used to exhibit far more than the six times he’s done so this year.

• Jacob Markstrom, whose health and sharpness have been in question of late, delivered many timely stops in a 28-save effort he made look easy.

• Blake Coleman’s game-winner midway through the first gave the Flames a confidence-building 2-0 lead with newfound puck luck, bouncing a rebound in off Spencer Knight. Slowly but surely his career-low shooting percentage is rising.

It says all you need to know about how well-rounded the Flames effort was when a four-assist, six-shot night from Gaudreau is a relative afterthought.

He was, by far, the best player on the ice, dominating offensively with an outing topped by a vintage feed to Monahan that his former linemate finished with the panache the two had put on display so often over the years.

And then there was an early third-period goal from Tkachuk, which was just the latest snipe to be filed away in the ‘how’d he do that?’ dossier.

This one saw him bat an Elias Lindholm pass out of the air while it was almost behind him, placing it top shelf, to salt the game away.

“I think it should give us confidence playing a more solid game than the past,” said Tkachuk.

“We knew this was one of the toughest opponents in the league, and they were tonight, but it’s nice to get out of that little losing streak we were in.

“I thought we just controlled most of the game in each period. I thought the specialty teams were probably the most encouraging things.”

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Markstrom, who has missed a couple practices of late while dealing with an unidentified ailment, did well to bounce back with his best outing since the calendar turned.

A key glove save on Jonathan Huberdeau during a pressure-packed power play in the first, followed by a glove snare on a short-handed Aaron Ekblad breakaway highlighted an evening in which his efficiency had plenty to do with the attention to detail his teammates showed.

There is no deeper, speedier or hotter team in the league right now than Bennett’s bunch, and the Flames neutralized the visitors at every turn.

The only lad to solve Markstrom was, in fact, Bennett, who narrowed the deficit to 2-1 midway through the game.

Playing his first game against the team that mercifully traded him nine months earlier, Bennett snapped home his team-leading 16th roughly 20 minutes after a first-period video tribute prompted a warm reception from fans generally happy the mustachioed centre has found his stride in south Florida after six frustrating years in Calgary.

Bennett also rang one off the crossbar and made his presence known in a scrum with a punch to the face of Andrew Mangiapane, who was under the Panthers’ skin all night.

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“We needed a win — that’s the most important thing,” said Monahan, whose first goal came on the power play when he won the faceoff and redirected a Gaudreau point shot.

“I thought our special teams were good, our penalty kill played a huge part and Marky played really well, and those are the keys to the game.”

And their 5-on-5 play wasn’t too shabby either.

“As I said, we’re not at the top working our way down, we’re at the bottom working our way up,” said coach Darryl Sutter afterwards.

“So we have to play complete games in order to stay in the playoff conversation.”

Mission accomplished Tuesday.

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