CALGARY — There are a few possible explanations for the chaos that framed the 9-6 victory by the Calgary Flames against the Edmonton Oilers in Game 1 of the Western Conference Second Round at Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday.
One could be temporary insanity from the long wait for a Battle of Alberta playoff game, the first in 31 years.
“It was 9-6, so, I mean, it’s not an ordinary game,” said Flames forward Blake Coleman, who scored two goals. “Maybe it’s the buildup of 30 years or whatever it’s been for this rivalry. A lot of excitement, a lot of jump. But if our team’s going to be successful, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The Flames’ ability to overcome adversity after letting a huge lead slip away could be another.
“We played probably the worst 20 or 30 minutes of hockey, 15 or 20 minutes of hockey we have all year, definitely in the playoffs, and it’s still a tie game (6-6 early in the third period,” said Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk, who had a hat trick. “Wasn’t the end of the world. (You’ve) still got to go out there. Can’t roll over and let them win. It was big to get that seventh goal from [Rasmus Andersson] and we went from there.”
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The tone of Game 1 was set quickly. Calgary forwards Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane had the Flames ahead 2-0 51 seconds in, an NHL record for the fastest two goals to start a playoff game.
“We weren’t ready, and it’s tough to play catchup for the whole night,” said Oilers forward Leon Draisaitlwho had three points (one goal, two assists).
But when Edmonton did somewhat miraculously catch up, its inability to protect the puck after tying the game proved costly.
“We talked after the second that the team that got to their defense first would win,” Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft said. “We got to 6-6 (on Kailer Yamamoto‘s goal 1:28 into the third period0, then turned over some pucks and it ended up in the back of our net. Like I keep saying, we scored six goals on the Calgary Flames in their building; that should be enough to win a game.”
Goaltending was a factor too; Mike Smith was pulled by Woodcroft after he allowed three goals on 10 shots in 6:05. Mikko Koskinen took the loss, allowing five goals on 37 shots. Jacob Markstrom allowed six goals on 28 shots, but more importantly he saved the final eight shots he faced. The Flames scored the last three goals of the game.
“[Markstrom] Gives us tons of confidence,” Tkachuk said. “He said before the third, ‘You guys keep doing your thing, I’m going to shut the door for you,’ and that’s exactly what he did. He’s been our MVP all year. It’s on us for pretty much every goal that went in earlier, whether it was turnover or not working or just mental mistakes.
“He’s been our MVP throughout. We have so much confidence in him and the way he was able to shut the door and calm things down in the third really helped get us that win.”
Maybe the most sensible explanation for a crazy Game 1 was proffered by Flames coach Darryl Sutter.
“Strange game,” Sutter said. “We scored on our first two shots and there were probably six different games out there.”
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Calgary’s record-breaking start got the crowd amped up. The Flames kept pouring it on and the Oilers were simply unable to handle that pressure in the first half of the game. The shots on goal through 29 minutes were 34-12 and the score was 6-2.
It was preposterous to think the second half of the game could be like the first, and not surprisingly, Edmonton came to life. Connor McDavid kept pushing and wound up with four points (one goal, three assists), and the building went momentarily silent when Yamamoto buried his rebound to tie it 6-6 early in the third period.
But it didn’t last; Andersson responded 1:29 later, and the Flames recovered for the win. They led Game 1 for 58:05 despite the chaotic score.
It’s also good to remember this wasn’t out of the blue, even though Calgary and the Dallas Stars combined for 29 goals in their seven-game first-round series. The Flames and Oilers are more than halfway to 29 heading into Game 2 on Friday (10:30 pm ET; ESPN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
But recall that in their final meeting of the regular season on March 26, the Flames scored nine even-strength goals and turned a close game into a 9-5 rout.
So even though lessons are learned from every game in the NHL, why couldn’t it happen again?
We’ll have to tune in Friday and find out.