If either the Calgary Flames or Dallas Stars were looking for consistency in terms of playing a tight, controlled, physical brand of hockey, both head coaches will be happy as Thursday’s Game 2 played out pretty much the same as Game 1 earlier in the week.
Unfortunately for the Darryl Sutter, the Flames head coach, it was Stars that scored the only goals this time around to send the best-of-seven series back to Dallas tied 1-1 following a tersely contested 2-0 victory.
“Close game, just like the first one,” was how Sutter summed it up in his characteristic, matter-of-fact style post-game.
Milan Lucic may have flat-out denied Thursday morning that the Flames had any kind of contingency plan in case the Dallas Stars decided to target Rasmus Andersson, but he hadn’t denied the existence of any Calgary plan to target the other agitator in the Game 1 fight.
In fact, it took just 43 seconds for John Klingberg to feel the wrath of the Flames – or Matthew Tkachuk anyway – as the Dallas defenceman who had called out Andersson after their Game 1 scrap, saying the Stars “would go after him,” found himself the target of the Flames winger’s ire, as well as his fists.
The scrap came in the aftermath of a Johnny Gaudreau ‘goal,’ as the Flames winger failed to hear the whistle for offside because of the cacophonous din created by the C of Red inside the Saddledome at the start of the game, and broke clean through to beat Jake Oettinger cleanly on a breakaway.
That was the only time the Flames would put the puck in the net all night, though they had plenty of chances to do so.
The Flames outshot the Stars on the scoreboard, 29-23, but in reality the ice was slanted far more heavily towards Oettinger’s net, where the 23-year-old Dallas goaltender was making just his second career playoff start.
“To be honest, I thought we had a couple more chances than we did in Game 1,” Gaudreau said afterward. “We pushed back in the third but it wasn’t enough.”
Calgary had 20 shots blocked and missed the net on 16 occasions, most notably when Andrew Mangiapane batted the puck out the air, directing it just wide of the far post.
Sutter wasn’t entertaining any ‘shoulda, woulda’ talk in his post-game comments, however.
“If you have a clear view, clear shot and go and miss the net, that’s on you, but we’ve had a lot of blocks up top and things like that,” he said. “We have to get it to the net better.”
Dallas did a little better. On just their fourth shot of the night, the Stars managed to do what they had been unable to do for the entirety of Game 1 – find a way past Jacob Markstrom. Having been held without a shot in the opener, Joe Pavelski did what he does better than virtually anyone else in the NHL, tipping a shot from Jason Robertson into the top corner, giving the Flames netminder next to no chance.
Michael Raffl wrapped up the scoring with an empty-netter with 1:09 to play, with assists going to Tyler Seguin and Jani Hakanpaa.
Following on from his series-opening shutout, Markstrom made 21 saves for the Flames.
That the much-needed breakthrough dose of offence came from the Stars’ top line was of little surprise, given that the trio of Pavelski, Robertson and Roope Hintz had collectively accounted for 232 points in the regular season, making them the second-highest-scoring Stars line since the team moved to Dallas in 1993.
In a bid to generate more offence from the rest of his lineup – as well as make each unit more accountable without the puck – Dallas head coach Rick Bowness chose to shake up his lines for Game 2, splitting up Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.
“It was a physical game the other night,” Bowness said Thursday morning. “You need to roll your four lines. [Calgary] did, we will, [and] when we need to shorten the bench that doesn’t mean I won’t put them back together, but at this point we just like the balance and they weren’t generating any offence together.”
Both teams were well aware of the stakes at play heading into this game. Teams that jump in front 2-0 in a best-of-seven series have an all-time record of 337-52 for a winning percentage of 86.6 per cent, which would have made the Stars’ task awfully hard heading to Texas for Game 3 on Saturday.
While the Flames will have to be patient and hope the goals eventually come, a big part of that will be counting on Oettinger’s .982 save percentage through the first two games to regress toward the mean come Saturday.
“It’s playoff hockey, I mean it’s not easy to score goals in the first place, let alone playing a team like this who play extremely defensive, their defence do a good job boxing out and all those things,” said Tyler Toffoli, who had five goals last year as part of the Montreal Canadiens’ run to the Stanley Cup final.
“Our goal was to go to Dallas and win two games anyway so it doesn’t really change our mindset.”