Virtually a must-win for the Calgary Flames, they went into Rogers Arena hoping to split the series and make it a best-of-three with home ice advantage. Lose instead and they have to win three straight against the Edmonton Oilers in order to advance. To say it was a biggest game of the year is an understatement.
The Flames got Chris Tanev back into the game so they opted with 11 forwards and seven defencemen again, which would keep their lines jumbled, perhaps as a strategy against the Oilers too.
The Flames didn’t want to make it easy on themselves. Just 21 seconds into the game, Jacob Markstrom did his best imitation of Mike Smith and vacated his net to play the puck… right into the stick of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. A fortuitous empty-net goal for the Oilers and the Flames immediately had to play catch up even before they established their footing.
Chris Tanev was visibly labouring in pain and it was questionable what his overall state was, but getting scored on early to see Calgary’s #1 defenceman seemingly shaken up on his return—things weren’t looking good for the Flames.
Midway through the frame, Tyler Toffoli took an undisciplined tripping penalty and the Oilers converted on the power play to go up 2–0. The Flames couldn’t clear the zone and Zach Hyman scored in his fourth straight game to sap the life out of the Flames.
The Flames had responded well after letting in the first goal, but the Oilers it down by going up ahead by two. To cap it off, the Oilers padded their lead with just over one minute remaining on a broken play. All of this happened with the Flames playing well enough, but it was one of the periods where the score on the ice completely took over any sense of accomplishment.
There’s no moral victories in the playoffs.
Heading into the intermission, the Flames needed the guttiest of gut checks, and they came out knowing they needed the next goal.
They got two in short order just before the midway point of the second period. Elias Lindholm converted on the power play to the relief of the Flames. Then 36 seconds later, Mikael Backlund scored on a huge individual effort. Just like that there was a hockey game.
The Flames needed to respond, and they did exactly that. In a game where sticks were gripped a bit more tightly, the Flames remained poised and didn’t waver.
No more goals would come in the second but the Flames were in a much better position heading into the third. If the pressure going into the game was high, the pressure going into the third was tenfold.
The Flames opened the third with a power play that carried over, but were unable to convert. Chances in the third didn’t really come for either team for a long stretch of play, to both the detriment and benefit of the Flames. The Oilers would be happy to grind out their one-goal lead, whereas the Flames had to fight the clock.
Over half of the period passed by with minimal stoppages all in favour of the team with the lead. And then the unthinkable happened.
Smith saw Rasmus Andersson take a shot from deep in the Flames’ zone while shorthanded. And Smith saw the puck pass him into the goal. 3–3, tie game on the unlikeliest of goals.
As the game dwindled down, the atmosphere was already that of an over time game. Chances were traded on either side of the ice. Late in the game the Oilers scored a go-ahead goal. The Flames needed to dig deep but instead Andersson was called for a double minor for high sticking with less than four minutes to go.
The Flames had a good moment immediately turn into a worst-case scenario. A comeback at this point required a miracle. The Flames had to find a moment to go from penalty killing to pulling their goaltender, and soon after Markstrom went off the ice, the Oilers scored on the empty net. 5–3, final score.
Flames head back to Calgary with a 3–1 series deficit. The odds are stacked against them as they need to string together three straight wins in order to win the Battle of Alberta.
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