A year ago, after finishing first in the Western Conference during the regular season, the Flames looked poised to make a lengthy run in the postseason. That dream died hard, with a quick exit in five games against the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
That unexpected elimination ate at Calgary’s players through the off-season. They continuously talked about making amends in this strange pandemic-interrupted campaign, and are off to a good start of it.
After dispatching the Winnipeg Jets in four games in the qualifying round, the Flames defeated the Dallas Stars, 3-2, to begin the first round on Tuesday night at Rogers Place.
Two of their youngest players had key roles in the victory: Dillon Dubé scored twice for Calgary, and Rasmus Andersson had the winning goal with 3 minutes 59 seconds left in the second period. And two veterans, both former Edmonton Oilers, made major contributions: Milan Lucic notched a point in his fifth straight postseason game with an assist on one of Dubé’s goals, and Cam Talbot made 24 saves to get the victory in the Flames net.
The next game in the best-of-seven quarter-final is Thursday night.
Calgary is attempting to win only its second series during the Stanley Cup since it lost in the final to Tampa Bay in 2004. It has had more than its share of disappointments, to which T.J. Brodie can attest.
The defenceman has been on the winning side in a Stanley Cup series one time, and this is his ninth full season. He has seen a lot of heartache.
“This definitely seems different than other years,” Brodie said afterward. He suffered the indignity of having one of the Stars’ goals caroming past Talbot off his backside. “You can feel the chemistry and the trust between the guys. You go to make the play but if you don’t you know someone will be there to back [you] up. It feels good.”
Anton Khudobin, who led the NHL with a .930 save percentage in the regular season, drew the start at goalie in place of the injured Ben Bishop for Dallas.
Talbot, who was 3-1 with a .945 save percentage in the qualifying round, was back in the crease again. He played less than David Rittich during the regular season but has gotten the nod because he has more playoff experience.
Denis Gurianov nearly got the Stars on the board about five minutes into the first period. He banged a slap shot off the post from 12 feet away.
Khudobin stopped a good chance by Sean Monahan from in tight on a power play with 9:48 left in the first, but surrendered the game’s first goal to Dubé 42 seconds later. The 22-year-old centre, who had the winning goal in Game 4 against Winnipeg, netted the puck after receiving a smooth cross-ice pass from Lucic.
It was the ninth game in a row that Dallas has allowed the first goal, dating back to the regular season.
Later in the period, Dubé was denied on a wrist shot from 11 feet away, but then scored for the second time on a hard rush to put Calgary up 2-0 with 1:58 to go before the first intermission. It was the first multigoal game of his NHL career.
The Flames had a 12-7 advantage in shots in the first period. Talbot, who stopped the last 50 attempts in the Winnipeg series, extended that streak to 57 in the first and to 64 midway through the second.
Dallas then suddenly beat him on back-to-back shots over nine seconds. Gurianov, the right wing who led the Stars with 20 goals in the regular season, cut Calgary’s lead to 2-1 by tipping in a shot by Miro Heiskanen with 9:08 remaining in the middle period. Jamie Benn then knuckled a puck past Talbot to tie it at 2-2. That was the one that found Brodie faced in the wrong direction.
Until Gurianov scored, Talbot had gone 122 minutes 43 seconds without allowing a goal. He posted a 1.51 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage against Winnipeg. In a series that was supposed to be all about Connor Hellebuyck, Talbot was the better netminder.
Andersson then put the Flames back ahead when he snapped a shot over Khudobin’s right shoulder with 3:59 to go before the second intermission.
The Flames had trouble holding leads against Colorado last season, but buckled down and held the Stars to only a few chances in the third.
“For us to get the lead is nice, but it is a best-of-seven series and there is a lot of hockey left,” Geoff Ward, Calgary’s interim head coach, said. He took over after Bill Peters resigned early in the season after it was discovered he had made racist comments years earlier about a Black player. “It was a good first game, but we have to park it and get reads for Games 2, 3 and 4. They are going to come fast.”
The Flames took a first step at redemption by beating the Jets in the qualifiers. And that was all it was for them – a step.
“Nobody is satisfied with beating Winnipeg and getting into the final 16,” Flames captain Mark Giordano said Monday. “We’ve gone through enough together, enough losses in the playoffs together, that we’re not satisfied. We want to keep going. I don’t get any sense any of our guys are satisfied right now.”