Flames put on stirring show of emotion in win over Canadiens

Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom celebrates with teammates after defeating the Montreal Canadiens in an NHL hockey game in Montreal, Saturday, January 30, 2021. (Graham Hughes/CP)

Apparently the Calgary Flames have had more closed-door meetings than we thought.

In the midst of the team’s impressive response to the players-only meeting aimed at drawing more emotion from the Flames, word leaked that Sam Bennett has inquired about the possibility of a trade.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported during the second intermission of Saturday’s game in Montreal that agent Darren Ferris confirmed the 24-year-old would welcome a change of scenery.

The timing is hardly surprising given Bennett’s deployment on the third and fourth lines, and the surging empowerment of players like Pierre-Luc Dubois, who have more say than ever in their fate.

While Flames fans chewed on the news, Bennett and the Flames put on a stirring show of emotion the team felt it had been missing during the three-game losing skid they entered the game with.

They did so with a series of gutsy (and painful) shot blocks, several big hits, plenty of post-whistle jostling and an intensity that allowed them to hand Montreal its first regulation loss of the season.

The scoresheet shows Johnny Gaudreau’s first period power-play goal and Jacob Markstrom’s 37-save shutout as the differences in the 2-0 win.

However, it was the way they crafted the win that told the real game story.

“You could just see it right off – huge blocked shots, guys getting into scrums and mixing it up physically, a couple big body checks… just little things, the battles,” said undrafted captain Mark Giordano who played in his 900th NHL game.

“That’s a good team over there that battles extremely hard and I thought we did a good job. When your goalie plays like that you’re not going to lose. Ever.”

Starting with an opening faceoff that saw Mikael Backlund and Jake Evans butting heads before the puck was even dropped, the Flames were hell-bent to try to dictate the play against a team that had yet to lose in regulation. They demonstrated heightened emotion in every possible way, but it was their selfless shot-blocking that best exemplified their dedication on this night.

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Rasmus Andersson’s first of five blocked shots left him in considerable pain, as did a blast absorbed by the wrist of Juuso Valimaki (one of four on the night) off the stick of noted clapper king Shea Weber.

“I’m more scared of letting it in than stopping it – it’s my job to stop it,” laughed Markstrom when asked if he’d advise the youngster to block such bombs.

“It’s great to see – you see everybody on the bench, standing up banging their sticks. Small things like that during a game you really want to try to get momentum from anything. It can be from a goal or a save or shot blocks and back-checking, and stuff like that. We really stuck together as a team for 60 minutes. When shots were coming, I was seeing the puck and when I wasn’t our guys were blocking shots and clearing rebounds, so it made my job a whole heck of a lot easier. That was a big win for us to come back here after some games where we haven’t been happy or satisfied with the results.”

Gaudreau gave the lads an important confidence boost three minutes in when he went bar down to beat Jake Allen with a deadly wrister that extended his point streak to seven games.

The outcome was very much in doubt until the final minute when Backlund found an empty net to end the three-game misery that had clearly rattled the Flames.

In between was another Markstrom clinic as part of an emphatic team response to the players-only meeting that followed their loss to Montreal two nights earlier.

“Anytime you have a meeting as a player, you want to make sure you let your teammates know that you are there for them and you’ve got their backs – it’s easier to get the emotional level up,” said Ward, whose 3-3-1 club blocked a whopping 22 shots.

“A lot of things have been said the last couple days about, ‘it’s a panic situation’ and it’s looked at as a negative thing so early on. But we want that communication and we value that feedback. For us it’s not a negative. I thought the meeting was a good thing for us heading into tonight’s game.”

One of the big moments in the game was a violent hit by Dillon Dube on an unsuspecting Jesperi Kotkaniemi as the Habs youngster turned to skate behind the net. Making his first appearance after missing a few games due to injury, Dube’s blast drew some blood and the ire of several Canadiens players, including Shea Weber who took a roughing penalty in response. It will also draw the attention of league officials who will mull over the possibility Kotkaniemi’s head may have been the principal point of contact.

The Bennett report will also provide plenty of discussion moving forward.

Flames GM Brad Treliving didn’t comment, but Ward responded when asked post-game about it.

“He’s a member of our team,” said Ward, who has used Bennett largely as a third-line winger and fourth-line centre this season.

“As far as anything else goes that’s between his agent and Tre. He’s a valued member of our team. He had a good hockey game tonight. We’ll just continue on, business as usual, and build off of what he put on the ice tonight.”

The Flames open a three-game series in Winnipeg Monday.

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