For the better part of 50 minutes, the Calgary Flames had the third game of their playoff series against the Anaheim Ducks well under control. It was looking easy. It looked like a sure thing. After losing twice in Anaheim, thanks to undisciplined play and some bad luck, the Flames were back on home ice Monday night, where they've traditionally managed a little more pushback against the big bad Ducks.
The Flames opened up 2-0 and 4-1 leads early. They made the Ducks pay for a steady parade to the penalty box by scoring three times with the man advantage. Everything was going their way – until it wasn't.
Corey Perry's seeing-eye shot from the right boards caromed in off the pants of Flames' defenceman Michael Stone at 1:30 of the first overtime period to cap an impressive four-goal rally by Anaheim, which skated off with a 5-4 victory over a discouraged and disconsolate group of Flames' players, left to ponder what just happened – to their season and to their playoff chances.
It was the first time in franchise history that the Ducks came from three goals down to win a playoff game. With the Ducks on the ropes, coach Randy Carlyle shuffled his lines and conjured up a unit that featured Perry, Rickard Rakell and Nate Thompson, an unlikely trio that keyed the comeback.
To say the Flames were dazed and confused afterward would be an accurate assessment. They were shell-shocked.
Once the Flames were back on their heels, they were sitting ducks for an Anaheim team that responded to a mid-game goaltending change with poise and assurance.
The Flames needed a victory badly to get back in the series. Instead, they are down 3-0 in the best-of-seven Pacific Division semi-final, with Anaheim in a position to sweep the series in Game 4, scheduled for Wednesday at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Jonathan Bernier picked up the victory in relief, after Carlyle gave starter John Gibson the hook just before the halfway point of the game. Gibson gave up four goals on 16 shots, before giving way to Bernier, who provided shutout goaltending the rest of the way.
Shea Theodore's first of two goals came with 49 seconds to go in the second period and started the Anaheim comeback in relatively innocent fashion.
Theodore's goal came on a muff by goaltender Brian Elliott, who might have been distracted by an un-penalized exchange at the Flames' bench involving Perry, who traded punches with players seated on the bench. Jakob Silfverberg rattled a shot off the crossbar with four seconds to go in the period that could have made it closer still.
The roof caved in on the Flames midway through the third when the Ducks, down by two, received a goal from Thompson with 8:46 to get it to 4-3. Thompson's eye-level tip of a point shot by Hampus Lindholm was right on the edge of being illegal via a high stick.
But a video review upheld the call on the ice, which put the Flames even further back on their heels. Theodore scored again – a long seeing-eyed shot from the point – to square the game 4-4 with 4:21 to go in regulation – and setting the stage for the overtime heroics.
For Calgary, Sean Monahan, Kris Versteeg and Sam Bennett scored power-play goals, while Stone chipped in with one at even strength. Bennett's goal ended Gibson's night and brought Bernier into the game.
Until late afternoon, there were lots of tickets available on the secondary market, presumably a product of the recession that continues to grip the city. But by puck drop, the building was filled to capacity, most spectators clothed in the team's signature red jersey, some wearing bracelets on their wrists that flashed a red light, creating a neat, eerie effect.
Whether it was the supportive homegrown crowd, or simply coach Glen Gulutzan's message about better starts sinking in, the Flames got on the board first. Twenty-three seconds after Ducks' Nick Ritchie was sent off for interference, Monahan scored his third goal of the series, converting a Troy Brouwer centring pass with a quick shot from the top of the crease that eluded Gibson.
The Ducks survived a holding call against Korbinian Holzer but couldn't kill off a goaltender interference penalty to Hampus Lindholm moments later. Versteeg made the Ducks pay on that, sneaking down from the right point, the puck arriving on his stick before Gibson could get over to cover the far goalpost.
The Flames spoke about the hockey gods – and how they failed to smile on them much in the first two games of the series – but they were out in full force on that right-place, right-time play.
Calgary held an 8-1 edge in shots at that point, but Anaheim managed a pushback before the period ended, Ritchie cashing in the rebound of Antoine Vermette's shot to make it 2-1 Calgary at the end of a bone-jarring opening period.
Stone and Bennett extended Calgary's lead to 4-1, before the collapse started and put their season squarely on the ropes.