Having scored as many goals as the entire Calgary Flames team combined, it’s fair to say Joe Pavelski is making few friends north of the border.
After the veteran Dallas forward scored his third goal in three games on Saturday – including two successive game-winners – the Flames now find themselves in a 2-1 hole heading into Game 4 of the best-of-seven first-round series Monday night in Dallas.
In a postseason in which the uptick in offence seems to have carried over from the regular season, with teams averaging 3.23 goals a game before Sunday’s contests, Calgary is bucking the trend at precisely the worst time, having scored just three goals total.
Saturday’s 4-2 loss was a breakout of sorts though, as the Flames doubled their output from the first two games in one evening. But the Dallas deluge was still way off its regular-season form, in which it averaged 3.55 goals a game, good for sixth-best in the entire league.
As the only team in the NHL featuring three 40-goal scorers in the regular season, it would hardly be unfair to expect more from that trio. But only Elias Lindholm has found the net so far, accounting for two of the Flames’ three goals, leaving Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk searching for answers.
Calgary head coach Darryl Sutter threw down the gauntlet to his top line on Sunday.
“I’d rather have a guy who scores a big goal than a guy who scores 40,” he told reporters. Case in point was fourth-line centre Trevor Lewis, who scored his first playoff goal in six years to bring Calgary level at 1-1 after it fell behind for the second consecutive game.
“Every goal’s a big goal,” Sutter continued. “You take out the empty-netters, that’s how it is. Even when it was 2-1 last night and we have three of probably the best opportunities we’ve had all series and they’re saves. If you get a two-goal lead, that’s a big difference.”
Playing against second-year goaltender Jake Oettinger and his .969 save percentage, the Flames will have to be far more clinical in front of goal. For the third straight game, the Western Conference’s second seed outshot the wild-card Stars, putting up 41 shots in the losing effort.
Gaudreau had one of his best looks all series late on, when he broke clean through on Oettinger with the tying goal on his stick, but he was unable to lift the puck and the 23-year-old netminder padded the shot away.
After his career-best 40-goal, 115-point regular season, the Flames’ offensive catalyst would love a do-over, but feels confident his time will come in this series.
“Obviously, I would like to score … there, but I had a lot of chances last night, five, six shots, a couple of them were pretty Grade A opportunities,” he said. “So I’m happy I’m getting those looks and obviously, I’ll find the net there eventually but yeah, obviously you want that one back for sure.”
Despite the odds now against the Flames – teams that take a 2-1 lead in a best-of-seven Stanley Cup series hold a series winning percentage of .700 – the team’s coach is still choosing to accentuate the positives.
“They’re in a good place,” Sutter said of his team. “We’re doing a lot of things we’ve done all year, just we’re not getting the results. But in a series you’ve got to get results or you run out of real estate.”
In such a low-scoring series, it isn’t all that surprising that the team that has scored first has gone on to win each game.
Naturally Tkachuk said a better start is going to be key. However, after getting into another fight with Stars defenceman John Klingberg inside the opening 90 seconds – the second successive game the two have locked horns from the get-go – the winger also acknowledged that cutting down some of the penalties may be an important part of Calgary’s game plan, too.
“The last game, I wasn’t expecting it,” he told reporters. “But I got chased around from the first second I got out there so I’m like, ‘All right, perfect.’
“But I think other than that we’ve just got to get the lead and if they want to play chippy, we can play that game, we can play a skill game, we can play any type of game. But I think our team is better suited five-on-five.”
For a team that generated the third-most scoring chances in the league at five-on-five, both Sutter and Tkachuk acknowledged that the amount of off-setting minors – there have been eight four-on-four situations – was disrupting one of the team’s biggest strengths.
The first Dallas goal was scored at four-on-four, and acknowledging it was weird to have so many in such a short span of games, Sutter talked to the refereeing supervisor about it before Saturday’s game. “That would take you 20 games to get that many four-on-fours in the regular season,” Sutter said. “I think [the referees] can handle those situations better.”
Despite 42 goals in the regular season, Tkachuk has now gone six playoff games without scoring. But far from being downhearted, the winger says confidence is still high. In fact, he expects the team to turn it on as the series plays out.
“There’s a lot of belief in us, and the way we play over the course of a seven-game series, I can see us getting better and being more successful as the series goes along.”