NEW YORK – The Calgary Flames reconvened from a nine-day break in search of a spark – a reason to believe they have what it takes to finally come together as a group.
How perfect then, that as host of some of the world’s most iconic fights, it was Madison Square Garden where the lads chose to prove they’re ready to battle down the stretch.
In a wildly entertaining game on Monday befitting the world’s greatest arena, the Flames showed the type of character that galvanizes teams, steadying them for the challenge ahead.
They fought back from three deficits, bounced up and back from a trio of highlight-reel hits, responded immediately with might and left with a point and an exclamation mark on their season.
“I don’t think we’ve had a game like that this year,” said MacKenzie Weegar, one of three Flames to drop their mitts in response to big Blueshirt blasts that demanded as much.
“It shows to everybody, and most importantly to us in the dressing room, we’re not going to back down from anybody, and we’re going to stand up when needed, and we’re just going to keep this momentum going.
“We showed a lot of good character out there.
“We showed we love each other, and we care for each other. A lot of guys stepping in, and stepping up – that was the positive for tonight.”
The obvious negative came in the form of their seventh overtime loss in 10 tries, a 5-4 barn burner.
However, losing the extra point was one of the only things they regret on a night that saw endless grit and positives on display.
Weegar stepped up in defence of a thunderous Sammy Blais hit on Milan Lucic, dropping Will Cuylle in his first fight as a Flame, reminding folks he’s a savage lefty.
Before that, Chris Tanev tested his surgically repaired shoulder (the recent upper-body injury he returned from) by fighting Jacob Trouba after the 6-foot-3, 205-pound blueliner decked Dillon Dube for his first of two hellacious hits on the night.
The second Trouba hit violently knocked the helmet off Nazem Kadri, prompting 5-foot-11, 183-pound Dube to immediately engage with the big lug for his first NHL fight.
“Tanny stepped up for myself and you really feel a part of it when a guy does that for you,” said Dube, whose only fight came in junior seven years ago.
“Then for Looch as well, that was some old-school hockey there for that first period.
“It’s just showing up. If he lands one on me, so be it. Just show up and I’ll be fine after a fight.
“Every single guy in this room would do the exact same. Closest guy steps up and helps guys out.”
Flames coach Darryl Sutter deemed the comeback effort “valiant,” agreeing it was a wildly entertaining game to be part of.
The players certainly thought so.
“I feel like it means we’re all in – we’re all together,” said Weegar of the mayhem.
“We want it. We’re still going to keep pushing here.
“It’s a big point to start a road trip off a break, coming into a tough building.
“Those are the games you remember at MSG. Lots of physicality, lots of fights, goals.
“Ultimately the two points are what matters most, but we’ll keep pushing.”
Indeed, they chased all night, but they never gave up, bouncing back from three deficits to eventually surge ahead 4-3 with two third-period goals in 2:03.
Mika Zibanejad’s second of the night tied it with seven minutes left and Alexis Lafreniere won it in overtime, but not before Jacob Markstrom strung together a series of great saves to keep the Flames’ hopes alive.
Markstrom preceded the scrambly game-winner with an all-world stop, only to punctuate the loss seconds later by breaking his stick across the post and heaving it up ice.
Alas, this one wasn’t on him.
Egregious giveaways led to several Rangers goals, as both teams made plenty of mistakes in their first game back from the All-Star break.
They contributed to making it one of the most intense and entertaining tilts the NHL has staged this season.
The playoff push has officially begun for a Flames club that jumped into the West’s final wild-card spot with the loser point.
“We played a good game,” said Andrew Mangiapane, who steered the Flames’ third goal in with his skate blade, somehow avoiding having it called back after a coach’s challenge deemed it a “deflection,” as opposed to a kicking motion.
“A lot of big hits and guys sticking up for each other and that’s a great sign. That’s guys coming together and being a team. That’s what you love to see.
“We had a couple guys who don’t usually fight who stuck up for our teammates there – it shows the character of those guys.”
It gives a tiny hint of what’s to come and what might be needed for the Flames to start living up to expectations and surging up the standings in a tight race.
“It had a little bit of everything, that game,” said Mikael Backlund, whose line with Blake Coleman and Mangiapane led the way with two goals and six points.
“It was a good team effort. We played some good hockey tonight. We finished off well in Seattle and we wanted to carry on from that, play well tonight and go on a run.”