Well, the Battle of Alberta is 3–1 for the Edmonton Oilers. Honestly, I needed to take a good 30 to 45 minutes to collect my thoughts and actually process what this means for the Calgary Flames. Am I disappointed? Absolutely. I am extremely disappointed. I didn’t see this coming, and most people in the hockey world didn’t either.
It’s not what the Flames wanted and it certainly isn’t what the fans wanted. But—and this is important—is it over? In reality, no. I was going to just bash this team and make this Afterburner all anger. But that’s not what we need to do. That’s not the energy that will help. This post is going to be mostly all positive vibes and optimism because at this point, it’s what we need as Flames fans. The Flames still have a game—and potentially more—to play. I had to remind myself this on my car ride home after I sent this tweet out of pure anger.
Don’t do what I did. Be angry, be sad, be disappointed, but only for a moment. Let all that settle and then take a big step back and collect your thoughts. I know I had to do that. Let’s deal with the doom and gloom of losing in Round 2 if it actually happens. But one thing is for sure, it hasn’t happened yet, and there is still hockey to play.
We don’t deserve Chris Tanev
A man who is probably 50% functional was the Flames’ best player tonight. No, I am not even exaggerating. His presence alone allowed the Flame to stay competitive in this game, and not let the Oilers offence get out of hand. At 5v5, Tanev finished the game at a 72.73% CF%, 80.44% xGF%, was on the ice for 4 HDCF, and 0 HDCA. It’s safe to say that the Flames really missed Tanev.
Now you can look at this in certain ways. The first way is that you can think it is despicable that a Tanev with one arm played the best out of everyone in the team. And if you take that route, that’s your choice. But also consider this: The Flames played the best hockey that they have all series with a one-armed Tanev. That is how I think we should look at this. I think the entire blueline looked more confident than we have ever seen in this series.
For majority of the game, the Flames controlled the pace, and they were getting sustained pressure. The best way to defend the Oilers is to keep them in their own zone, and they did do that. At 5v5, the Flames led the CF% at 64.84%, SCF% at 56.82%, and was exactly even with HDCF% at 50%. The one area where they finished down? xGF% at 45.81%.
The Flames were there, and they were competing, just needed to get some higher quality chances. But this is a big step in the right direction, and a lot of that is due to the stability Tanev provided to the Flames defensive structure, a structure that seemed like it was shattered during Game 3.
The Flames battled adversity
This game started off on a very sour note just 21 seconds into the game as Jacob Markstrom went out to play the puck and it did not go as planned. What could have been the right idea, ended up going off the heel of Markstrom’s stick and was served on a silver platter for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Following that, the goals that got past Markstrom was a power play goal that Tanev probably prevents if he is at 100%, and then a wrist shot that is tipped by a diving stick from Nikita Zadorov. It is obvious that Markstrom hasn’t played his best this series, but neither has Mike Smith.
After allowing three goals, Markstrom shut the door for almost the rest of the game, allowing the Flames to come back and tie this game. A power play goal from Lindholm, and a relentless goal from Backlund got the Flames within one goal. Mike Smith then makes up for the Markstrom blunder by having one himself, which then tied the game 3–3. The Flames were down 3–0 after one period. Any Flames team from prior years would have crumbled even more, and this game would have been over.
Once again however, the Flames showed that they can battle back. They can in fact battle back against the high-powered Oilers and can do so in a hostile arena. That is very encouraging even with the loss. At the end of the day, this is something that the team can build off of for the rest of this series.
The Flames lost, and Markstrom let in a bad goal. I know this, we all know this, and Markstrom knows this. But like I said, this is going to be an optimistic post. So I think we need to have a deep dive into the goal that Mike Smith let in which tied the game. Markstrom made a phenomenal save on Draisaitl to keep the Flames in the game, and a couple seconds later, Smith did the exact opposite. What a moment this was.
This is one of the most bizarre goals that I have ever seen. This isn’t even at 5v5; the Oilers were on the power play. Andersson just clears the puck, and it beats Mike Smith… clean. This isn’t just a section to make fun of Smith, but there are two very key things to take away from this sequence if you are the Flames.
The first thing: despite the save percentage, and despite the mishandling of the puck at the beginning of the game, Markstrom showed that he can battle and show up for the team in very key moments. No matter what has occurred in the game, Markstrom has the ability to shut the door when it matters. The second thing: Mike Smith is still Mike Smith.
In a series that has been incredibly tough for the Flames to control, Smith showed that the Flames don’t need to solve him like they had to solve Oettinger. All the Flames need to do is put pucks on net. The Flames don’t need 100+ shot attempts to beat Smith. Obviously, if they are able to do that, that’s great. But if the Flames pressure Smith with shots, especially high danger ones, some are bound to go in.
Take a look at the above 5v5 shot map in Game 4 from our Flames Visual Recaps. The Flames were getting shots off, that is very true. Where this can be improved however is right in front of the net. There needs to be more volume there. So if you are the Flames, keep doing what you did in Game 4, however for the next game, get some traffic in front of Smith. Be in a position to tip the puck. Make life for Smith as tough as possible, and the goals will absolutely come.
Smith is playing well, you have to give him credit, but he is not the best goaltender in the world. He is not what Oettinger was in Round 1. The Flames persevered and got past Oettinger, they can absolutely get past Smith.
It’s not over
A series score of 3–1 is not 4–0, 4–1, 4–2, or even 4–3. It is important to remember this. No matter how hopeless you might feel as a Flames fan right now, remember that this series is still going on. There are different ways to look at this series.
Sure, you can take a glass half empty look at things and say that the Oilers are one game away from winning the series, that the Oilers have won three straight against the Flames, that they couldn’t take advantage of a free goal from Smith, and that Markstrom hasn’t been at his best. If you want to look at the series like this, go ahead. But consider thinking about it this way instead.
The Flames are two games back. Not three, two. The next Flames game is at home, in front of almost 20,000 of the C of Red. The Flames battled back in an away game that seemed out of reach to everyone but them. The Flames played their best game this series. The Flames have already battled to win a very important elimination game this year.
Markstrom made key saves that allowed the team to come back. The Flames defended McDavid and Draisaitl better than they ever have this series. Finally, and maybe most importantly, the Flames can build off this performance. It’s not like this was like Game 3 where the Flames did absolutely everything wrong. The Flames did a lot of things well last night, and they can build off it to play even better next game.
The Flames need to win three in a row, sure. But I don’t think that’s how it should be looked at, and it’s absolutely not how the Flames will look at it. Five very important words here: one game at a time. If you have ever had five final exams in the span of seven days, or if you have had a week at work where the deadlines just pile up, you know this mindset all too well. You are not looking at it as needing to write five final exams in seven days. You are not looking at it as an endless amount of deadlines that have to be met by Friday. You see it as one exam at a time, one deadline at a time, one game at a time.
The first challenge: win at home. The fans will be on their side, and it is an arena that they are used to playing in. Win Game 5. That is challenge number 1. If they do that, great! Next is to do what they got so close to doing in Game 4, and win at Rogers Place. It’s definitely not impossible, as they were nine minutes away from taking it to overtime. If they conquer this, amazing! All of a sudden, it is 3–3. It is just as much of an elimination game for the Flames as it is for the Oilers at that point, with momentum on the Flames side.
Don’t focus on winning three in a row. Focus on winning one game. After you do that, win at Rogers Place. I am not saying that it is easy, it’s going to be the hardest thing the Flames will have to do, but it is not impossible. It’s going to be a tough task for this Flames team, but with Sutter’s experience, and with their perseverance, the chances that they succeed are likely higher than what most people think. When things are at their toughest, you put one foot in front of the other, and take one step after the other. It seems like the toughest and tallest mountain to climb in the world, but people have climbed Mount Everest before. We can be sad and angrily vent about this team series if that time comes. Right now, it’s not the time.
Flames in seven.