If indeed this was a first-round playoff preview, Flames fans better buckle up.
Because things could get intense.
That was certainly the case Tuesday in Nashville where the Flames had every reason to be proud of the single point they stole from a desperate Predators club.
Playing in the second half of back-to-back road games, using backup Dan Vladar and fighting back from a two-goal deficit, the result should be applauded.
Sure, no one leaves the ice after a shootout loss feeling like they’re on top of the world.
Especially when the team you lost to may be your opening-round playoff foe.
However, there was enough for the Flames to feel good about as they debated trying to fly home to Calgary’s spring storm afterwards.
“Close game,” shrugged Darryl Sutter of a 3-2 loss, settled with a Mikael Granlund finish in the skills competition – the only goal scored.
“No shootouts or three-on-three, no pretty stuff in a week.”
Well, technically, the two are set to face off again, under regular season rules, in a week.
However, if the intensity and nastiness that started to bubble over in this one continues, the Flames’ return engagement at Bridgestone Arena may very well look and feel like a post-season set-to.
The Predators win will certainly help the chances they’ll open the playoffs facing Calgary, as they moved two points up on Dallas to remain the first wild card.
Nashville has a murderer’s row of opponents for their final five games, including another dance with Calgary next week.
If that game is anything like Tuesday’s the matchup should serve them both well.
“It was a tight game – those are the fun ones to play in,” said Andrew Mangiapane, who scored both Flames goals from his office just outside the blue paint of the crease.
“That makes us that much better and you want to be in those close games. That’s kind of what playoff hockey is all about so it was a good game for us to gear up and get ready for the next couple weeks here.”
Vladar kept the Flames in it until the midway point of the second period when Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene scored to put up a lead that Mangiapane cut in half late in the frame.
His power-play goal was a shovel job in the crease after the puck bounced off Matthew Tkachuk, whose parents drove seven hours from Chicago with hopes of seeing him get to 100 points.
They had to settle for seeing him break his dad’s career-high of 98 points with the assist.
Mangiapane converted his 34th six minutes into the third after Tyler Toffoli’s stick broke on a shot attempt, prompting another finish in the gritty zone.
“We showed them, like, I honestly think they don’t want to play us,” said Vladar, who made 25 saves and stopped four of five Nashville power plays, including one with 1:12 left in overtime.
“It was 2-0 and they maybe thought it was going to be an easy game, and all of a sudden they got those bulldogs in front and they just score. It doesn’t matter how, it can be nice, it can be ugly.
Guys are blocking shots in front of me. Today was tight, playoff hockey.”
One of those shot blockers was Noah Hanifin, who limped off the ice and into the dressing room after taking a shot to the ankle late in overtime, while killing off a too many men penalty.
Lots of face-washing and post-whistle scrums, as well as big hits and tight checking.
A genuine dislike seems to be forming, making them the perfect opening test should the final standings dictate it.
A preview on the other possibility comes Thursday when the Flames host the Stars.
The Flames could clinch the Pacific Division title before that, with an Oilers loss Wednesday against Dallas.