Despite being pushed to the absolute limit, the Calgary Flames found a way to get past the Dallas Stars in overtime Sunday night, beating the Dallas Stars 3-2 in Game 7 of their first-round series.
In a fast and frenetic, back-and-forth overtime period, Johnny Gaudreau finally ended the series with an acute angle shot into the roof of the net with 4:51 remaining in the first overtime period. Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk earned the assists on the play.
The dramatic goal from the Flames’ leading playoff scorer means Gaudreau has added his name to a short but distinguished list of Flames Game 7 overtime heroes, following in the footsteps of Joel Otto and Martin Gelinas.
Next up, the first postseason Battle of Alberta in 31 years, as Calgary will play host to their provincial rivals to the north, the Edmonton Oilers, in their second-round series beginning Wednesday.
The Flames certainly had their chances to put the game away before the game even got to overtime, outshooting the Stars 63-28.
Both goaltenders put on an absolute clinic throughout the series. The Flames’ Jacob Markstrom, who is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top netminder, saving 26 of the 28 shots fired his way on Sunday, after coming into the game with a .945 save percentage in the series.
His opposite number, 23-year-old Jake Oettinger, has, in many ways, been the story of the series. He did that reputation little harm in Game 7, making 60 saves on 63 shots and building on the .954 save percentage he sported through the first six games.
Game 7 has traditionally not been a happy hunting ground for either of these two franchises. Dallas came into Sunday’s game with an all-time seventh-game record of 6-8, while Calgary was at 5-7.
The X factor – as ever – was head coach Darryl Sutter. While he was behind the bench for the most costly Game 7 loss in Flames team history – in the 2004 Stanley Cup final – he himself has enjoyed immense personal success in seventh games, winning three of them on route to winning the 2014 Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings.
The Viking, Alta., native set an NHL record on Sunday night by presiding over in his 11th Game 7. In the first 10, Sutter had gone 7-3, already establishing himself as the coach with most wins in such games, ahead of the likes of Claude Julien (5-5), Mike Keenan (5-5) and Mike Babcock (3-7).
Tickets for the first Game 7 at the Saddledome since 2008 were in short supply, with very few available on StubHub before the game. At the team’s official tailgate party outside the arena – which reached its capacity limit of 5,000 for the first time for Friday’s Game 6 in Dallas – online registrations for the event were gone in under 10 minutes.
While the fervour was at fever pitch by the time the first puck was dropped, it took exactly 40 seconds for that energy to start dissipating out of the building.
Despite Tyler Toffoli saying following the morning skate that Sutter would ensure the Flames were “ready to go,” a routine dump-in by the Stars quickly materialized on the stick of Jamie Benn in the slot. The Stars captain, who has enjoyed the role of heel at times in this series, made no mistake, firing it past Jacob Markstrom for his first goal of the playoffs.
Given that the team that scored first won the first four Game 7s of the 2022 first round, it was hardly surprising that the C of Red was getting nervous inside the Saddledome.
The Flames responded by going on the offensive, and almost drew level on the first power play of the game. Mikael Backlund and Andrew Mangiapane, who had combined so well to overturn a deficit to win Game 5, again teamed up here, with the former teeing up the latter for a chance in front, but Oettinger, as he has done for most of the series, got a pad on the puck to avert the danger.
Calgary could have fallen further behind if it wasn’t for their own goaltender’s heroics. With less than six minutes to go in the first, in which the home side outshot the visitors 17-8, Markstrom had to be at his absolute best to make a glove save on Joe Pavelski on the edge of the crease, and keeping the margin at just one goal.
The home side was on the front foot from the start of the second period, ultimately outshooting 26-4 in the middle stanza. The Flames tied things up just 1:46 into the period, Toffoli, who was brought over in a trade from Montreal to provide extra offence, finally breaking through for his first goal of this year’s playoffs, tipping in a shot from Oliver Kylington, with Michael Stone picking up the second assist.
Proving to be a man for the big occasion, it was Toffoli’s fourth career Game 7 goal in his fifth career Game 7 – only Patrice Bergeron (6) and Paul Stastny (5) have more among current NHL players.
But exactly 31 seconds later, the Flames found themselves trailing once more, with Vladislav Namestnikov grabbing his first goal of the playoffs on a wrist shot.
In a period of firsts, however, Tkachuk drew the Flames back level, taking a pass from Gaudreau and depositing the puck over the shoulder of Oettinger for his first of the 2022 postseason. In scoring in his first career Game 7, the Calgary winger got one over on his dad, Keith, the former Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues winger, who failed to register a point in four Game 7s during his own career.
Given the way these two teams had battled throughout the series, neither giving an inch and matching each other every step of the way, heading into the final period tied 2-2 with a game and a series hanging in the balance seemed somewhat fitting. With Markstrom stepping up to stop Jacob Peterson on a breakaway with less than 7:30 to play, it set the scene for the overtime drama.