The heartbreak continues for the Calgary Flames.
They lost in overtime to the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 for the second time in five days on Wednesday and are now only one defeat away from elimination in the National Hockey League playoffs.
They trail in the best-of-seven series 3-1 . Game 5 is Friday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Calgary had the second-best record in the NHL during the regular season but is perilously close to joining Tampa Bay on the list of favourites who were unable to survive the first round.
The Lightning, far and above the league’s best team over the first 82 games, were swept by Columbus, a wild-card qualifier, in four games. The Flames are one loss from suffering the same fate.
“They got the better of us again," Mike Giordano, the Calgary captain, said. “I am disappointed. We’ll regroup. We have a big game coming up. We have to find a way to get back here.”
If a sixth game is necessary, it will be played on Easter Sunday back at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
The Flames led 2-0 in the third period before allowing Colorado to escape. J.T. Compher scored with 11:50 remaining to cut the Avalanche’s deficit to 2-1, and then Mikko Rantanen tied it at 2 with 2:50 left.
Rantanen then had the game-winner 10 minutes 23 seconds into sudden death.
Colorado’s tying goal came after a hooking infraction on defenceman Mikael Backlund. Backlund had a chance to end it overtime but failed in his attempt to flip the puck over Colorado goalie Philipp Grubauer from a few feet away.
Grubauer made a sensational stop with his skate as he was sprawling.
“He made a good read, lifted his leg a bit and made the save,” Backlund said. “It is hard. I got the penalty and then had a chance to redeeming myself. It is going to be a long night.”
The loss marred another outstanding effort by Flames netminder Mike Smith, who had 49 saves. He faced 56 shots in Colorado’s 6-2 victory on Monday, and 39 on Saturday in the previous overtime loss.
Smith shut out the Avalanche in Calgary’s only win in the series a week ago at the Saddledome. He has seen 147 shots in the last three games.
“This one definitely hurts,” Smith said. “We had a two-goal lead with ten minutes left and we couldn’t win.”
The 37-year-old said he felt no satisfaction in playing well in defeat.
“I can care less about a personal accomplishment," he said. “That doesn’t matter when you don’t get the result. It is all about winning.”
The Flames had a spirited morning skate on Wednesday and it portended a better effort than in their lopsided Game 3 loss. It was a huge difference from Monday, when they appeared sluggish and disengaged in the early skate-around.
“It was the most energy we have had in a month,” Calgary coach Bill Peters said following the pregame skate. “It was the most energy we have had in a month. That is a very good sign for us. We have a little jump in our step.
“We are going to have fun here tonight. It is going to be hard for work for 60 minutes, if not more.”
He was right, but things ended badly.
The Avalanche gained momentum from the Compher’s power-play goal and sent Calgary down, well, in Flames.
Colorado rolled into the playoffs after clinching the second wild-card berth with as victory in its next-to-last game of the regular season. The Avalanche had to win eight of their final nine to make post-season.
That means they had to play playoff-level hockey for three weeks and used it to their advantage by carrying the momentum over into the first round. Columbus did the same thing in the Eastern Conference, and then spanked Tampa Bay in the first round.
In contrast, the Flames went weeks before the postseason without playing a meaningful game. They ran away with the Pacific Division in the regular season and finished as the top seed in the Western Conference. Perhaps that led to the inattention to details and numerous penalties that cost them in consecutive losses leading up to Wednesday’s game.
They played much better in Game 4, but that is not much solace at this point. Very few teams have ever been able to crawl out of a 3-1 hole.
Both goalies looked sharp at the onset of Game 4. Smith was peppered with pucks early on. He stopped a hard point-blank wrist shot from close in by Matt Nieto less than a minute and a half into the game. Shortly after that he denied Sven Andrighetto, Ian Cole and Tyson Barrie.
Grubauer, who has played strongly all series for Colorado, nabbed a slap shot by Noah Hanifan that looked like it was headed into the cornet of the net early ion the game.
The first period had a bit of everything. Calgary centre Elias Lindholm felled Alexander Kerfoot with two punches during a skirmish after a face-off. Smith was left laying face-first in his crease when Colin Wilson slid awkwardly into him at the end of a hard rush.
Calgary went ahead 1-0 on a power-play goal by Lindholm with 16:35 left in the second period. They added a second goal by Derek Ryan early in the third and looked like they were on their way to squaring the series at two games a piece.
Now, if the Flames are to advance, they need to beat a team three times in a row that they have lost to three straight times. Anything else and their season, the second-best in franchise history, will end in bitter disappointment.