The Flames convened in a conference room at their hotel on Tuesday morning to watch video of their dreadful defeat at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche in the third game of their NHL playoff series.
They got trampled 6-2 at the Pepsi Center on Monday and have looked like much the lesser team in consecutive losses that have placed them in a 2-1 deficit.
The NHL’s second-best team in the regular season trails the wildcard-carrying Avalanche for two big reasons. The Flames have found it impossible to slow down Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon, and have got little production from their best players.
MacKinnon has three goals and four points, but those numbers do not adequately reflect how dominant he has been.
Calgary’s top scorer, Johnny Gaudreau, has one assist through three games and that does not come close to showing how ineffective he has been.
Both MacKinnon and Gaudreau had 99 points in the regular season, but only one is playing with any mojo now.
It all adds up to trouble for the Flames, which need a victory in Colorado on Wednesday to keep from falling into a hole that very few teams are able to dig out of.
“Everyone has to better, not just one guy,” Gaudreau said the morning after an ugly collapse. He is correct, there. His linemates, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm, have also barely registered a pulse. “The Avalanche outplayed and outworked us up and down the ice and all over the rink.
“We have to get back to the way we played all season. It was a wake-up call.”
The Flames eschewed practice on Tuesday to take the time to better understand their drubbing. They allowed 56 shots in Game 3, and there were 24 others by the Avalanche that were blocked or missed the net.
Their goalie, Mike Smith, has faced 95 flying and skittering pucks in the past two games. Napoleon had better odds at Waterloo.
The six goals were the most Colorado has scored in a postseason game in 17 years. The 56 shots were its most in the playoffs since Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 1996 – and that one went into triple-overtime.
The Avalanche had 11 players make the scoresheet, and got goals from five.
The longer the game went on, the more the Flames came unhinged. Sam Bennett, Matthew Tkachuk and Garnet Hathaway all received 10-minute misconduct penalties in the third period for fighting. The team had the insurmountable sum of 50 penalty minutes in all.
Not only did it force Calgary to play uphill, but it also limited the time its best players were on the ice.
“We are usually buzzing around in the offensive zone and we haven’t gotten too many chances,” said Bennett, a third-line centre who has been Calgary’s best player. He has a goal and three assists in the first three games. “We can’t let them walk all over us. We need a better push-back and we haven’t shown that.”
It shows how undisciplined and rattled a team with great expectations can become when its skill and intensity level is being exceeded by its opponent. The Flames finished with the second-most victories in franchise history. Anything but a lengthy jaunt through the playoffs would be a disappointment.
“We get down and guys are trying to get three goals all back at once,” said Mark Giordano, the Calgary captain. “Everyone is trying hard, but we are taking too many risks.
“We aren’t being patient enough.”
The Avalanche came from behind and won in overtime at the Saddledome in Game 2 and jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period on Monday. The first two goals were both by MacKinnon and both on power plays.
He was good in Game 1, better in Game 2 and was flying in Game 3. He has 17 shots in three games, more than anyone else in the NHL.
“He is one of the best players in the world for a reason,” Giordano said. “He is a lot like Connor McDavid in the way he can skate.
“He plays a speed game and we are allowing him too much time and space. We have to take away his speed and make him stop when we can. We need to cut him off.”
Of course, if it were that easy, the Flames would have done it already. That MacKinnon is gaining confidence as the series rolls on is worrisome.
It is not unusual for there to be many momentum swings in the playoffs. They happen on almost a game-by-game basis. The Flames hope that is the case now, and hope they will be significantly improved in Game 4 on Wednesday.
“[Monday’s] game was an eyeopener,” Calgary coach Bill Peters said. “We got behind and were unable to reel it in.
“As bad as it was, it’s just one game. We were taken to school a little bit. Now we have to return the favour.”
The Flames know it. The question is if they can do it. The Avs are 10-1-2 in their past 13 games, including the regular season.
“It is do-or-die time,” said Noah Hanifin, a Calgary defenceman. “We know what’s at stake tomorrow. “We have to bring our best hockey. You have to play your best in the playoffs.”
It has not happened, and the Flames are down 2-1. Another loss and they have no more margin for defeat.