For the second year in a row, the Calgary Flames have gotten exceptional goaltending in the postseason. As in 2019, it still may not be enough for them to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Calgary’s high-flying offence remained grounded on Tuesday night in a 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, and now the Albertans face an elimination game two days hence. The loss came after a heartbreaking defeat in overtime on Sunday, and the Flames now trail in the best-of-seven series 3-2.
After having the second-best record in the NHL in 2018-19, they were eliminated in five games by the Colorado Avalanche. Calgary’s goalie in that series, Mike Smith, was by far the team’s best player but he didn’t get much help from anyone else.
The same is true of Cam Talbot, who turned away 30 of 32 shots in another tight game. He has faced 30 or more in four of the five games, and was deluged with 62 on Sunday.
John Klingberg, the Stars defenceman, scored the winning goal on a long wrist shot 72 seconds into the third period. Anton Khudobin had 28 saves in the win for Dallas. The game ended with Talbot on the bench and Calgary on a two-man advantage for the final 21 seconds.
Flames coach Geoff Ward felt that his players had the jitters at the start for the first time in this series. They gave up a shorthanded goal by Jamie Benn midway through the first period and were pinned in their end and outshot 14-7 over the first 20 minutes.
“Our team has not been in a 2-2 situation going into a Game 5 yet,” Ward said. “We don’t have many players with more than 20 games of playoff experience. When you know that the team that loses is going to be going into an elimination game, it’s tough to handle.
“It’s the first time I have seen us have a case of the nerves and it is understandable.”
Calgary didn’t get any production out of its first line, which went silent in last year’s defeat by Colorado. That series was a romp; this one has been tightly played but the Flames are still on the wrong end.
“We didn’t have the fight last year that this team has,” Ward said. “This team is going to battle back. I know comparison’s will be made, but to me these are two totally different situations.
The Flames were 12 seconds from taking a 3-1 series lead on Sunday when they surrendered the tying goal and then gave up the winner late in the first extra period. They were badly outshot and were similarly outplayed again at the start on Tuesday.
By the time Benn put Dallas ahead 1-0 midway through the first period, the Stars had already outshot Calgary, 9-2. Benn’s goal came from in close off a crisp cross-ice pass from Tyler Seguin.
The Flames coughed up the puck to the Stars’ tenacious defence 12 times in the first 20 minutes.
Despite being outplayed, Calgary went into the intermission tied at 1-1 behind a hard wrist shot from Mikael Backlund that beat Khudobin with just 46 seconds left in the period.
Talbot, who made 57 saves on Sunday and faced 159 shots in the first four games of the series, was sharp again. He stopped 13 of Dallas’ 14 shots in the first 20 minutes.
Before the game started, a ceremony was held to honour Dale Hawerchuk, whose family announced on Tuesday that he had died from stomach cancer. The 57-year-old member of the Hockey Hall of Fame scored 100 points six times and is best associated with his tenure with the Winnipeg Jets.
Dallas coach Rick Bowness, who coached Hawerchuk in Winnipeg during the 1980s, was visibly moved by the presentation. The Flames’ Rasmus Andersson and Andrew Mangiapane, both of whom played for Hawerchuk in the Ontario Hockey League, expressed regrets about his death after the game.
“Dale was just a great man,” Mangiapane said. “I don’t know where I would be without him. This was very sad news today.”
Calgary was much better in the second period, but Talbot still had to make a handful of brilliant stops to keep the score tied. After another giveaway, he denied Benn on a wrist shot from 25 feet away seven minutes into the period. He stopped Benn again and Corey Perry twice on dangerous chances during a flurry of shots in the last eight minutes of the period.
The Flames’ best chance came on a wraparound attempt by Sam Bennett that was knocked away by Khudobin less than two minutes before the second intermission.
Klingberg put the Stars up at the start of the third period and they simply held on for dear life the rest of the way. Calgary put tremendous pressure on Dallas late in the game but could never score the equalizer.
“I still think we have more than what we have showed here,” Mangiapane said.
Milan Lucic, the veteran forward, said the Flames were too passive at the start.
“The lesson there is that we have to be ready at the get-go,” Lucic said. “Right now, frustration is a waste of emotion. We have to look at what we can do to give us our best chance to win on Thursday.”
The Flames have played better than last year, but find themselves in a tough spot again.
“It’s time for us to come back and win a series when we are down,” Backlund said. “It is time for us to show we can have success in the playoffs.”