news world

Flames vs. Stars: Calgary comeback bid falls short as Dallas forces Game 7

The Flames almost avoided it.

In the sixth game of an opening round that hasn’t gone according to plan for Calgary, they had a chance to put the Dallas Stars away. It wouldn’t have been a short series, but it would have been over had their second-period rally from a two-goal deficit stood up.

Instead, a remarkable show of skill by Miro Heiskanen and a third-period lockdown by Jake Oettinger evened the series and set up a winner-takes-all contest in which one team has more to lose than the other.

“It was a hell of a game,” Darryl Sutter said. “Just couldn’t get the equalizer.”

The Flames piled up points in the regular season and raised expectations. They won measuring-stick games that told us they were a contender. They wound up as Pacific Division champions, led by the most productive line in the league, a Vezina finalist goalie, a Stanley Cup winning coach and one of the best individual performances in franchise history.

Despite all that, all that has mattered for the Flames has been the postseason. Now that we’re heading to Game 7 in Calgary on Sunday night, all that matters is one game.

On Sunday night, the Flames will determine how this team is remembered.

If they win, they’ll have accomplished something they haven’t in seven years.

If they lose, a team that spent 82 games showing us they were different will wind up in the same spot as all the other unsuccessful teams that couldn’t get it done.

Even still, this is a better team than the ones who didn’t make the playoffs, lost to Dallas in the bubble and got swept by Colorado after winning the Western Conference.

It sounds harsh, but the stakes are different for the Flames this year. Sometimes, expectations are the price you pay for success.

Those stakes, and the complete randomness of hockey, are reasons to be nervous about Game 7. The season is on the brink.

But the Flames control their destiny. They can win a hockey game on Sunday night and make the second round for the first time since 2015.

And they’re not the only team in this situation. There are nine others — five of eight first round series — about to play in a Game 7 this weekend.

Toronto has to try to beat a team that hasn’t lost a playoff round since 2019. Edmonton is trying to avoid elimination for a second straight game against LA. Carolina blew a 2-0 series lead against Boston. And Pittsburgh failed to put the Rangers away in two straight games.

That’s hockey sometimes. As much as it seems that Dallas is an inferior opponent — and in some ways the Stars are — there are no easy outs in the playoffs. That much is true every year, but this season is a great example of that.

Game 7 is going to be a big one, for obvious reasons. But before we turn the page, here are 10 observations from Game 6.


1. This game was a bit of a deviation from the rest of the series. The teams traded chances, with the final shots on goal 40-38 in favour of Dallas. High-danger chances (13) and shot attempts (71) were dead even in all situations. And the Stars scored three times at five-on-five for the first time in the series. The game was more open and less of a slog, even after Dallas got up 2-0 in the second period. I was certain it would tighten up considerably, but the Flames kept the pace high and the game open.

The concern here is that Game 6 played more into the Flames’ hands, given it was more uptempo with more offence, and they still lost.

Oettinger has a lot to do with that. He’s been Dallas’ MVP and difficult for the Flames to beat, especially when their forwards can’t get inside position.

2. Markstrom gave up a pretty bad one in the first period that was uncharacteristic of how he’s looked through the first round, putting up some of the best numbers among goalies in the playoffs.

It was a weak shot that slid under his pads five-hole, although Joe Pavelski was screening. It was the opening goal of the game and it wasn’t great. But then he went out and made saves at critical points in the third period like this:

He’s the losing goalie in Game 6, but you probably can’t put this all on Markstrom. This was the best Dallas’ offence has looked in this series and the busiest Markstrom has been.

Markstrom made 37 saves on 40 shots, including nine stops on 10 high-danger chances. He shut the door on three Dallas power plays too.

3. There are drawbacks to going with 11 forwards and 7 defencemen. But when your seventh defenceman does what Michael Stone did on Friday, the payoff is worth it. Especially when it’s either Stone or Brett Ritchie drawing in.

Stone had a nice game, with a few clean looks on Oettinger in the first period. On a Sportsnet intermission interview, he said those chances “gotta go in.” A few minutes later in the second period, one of them did.

This was the goal that started the comeback in the second period. The Stars got caught on a bad change and Johnny Gaudreau turned on the jets to create an odd-man rush with Matthew Tkachuk. Stone took a few quick strides to join the rush and Gaudreau made a perfect pass on his stick.

Oettinger couldn’t stop that one.

I thought the awareness by Stone to join the rush was excellent. But most impressive was the foot speed that allowed him to get behind the Dallas defence and be open. He’s not the quickest of foot, but he’s been working with skating coach Danielle Fujita for a few years now, and you have to think she’d be happy seeing that.

Stone’s other point in the second was a nice assist to Backlund after running the point on the second power play unit to tie the game, though the goal was at five-on-five. He played 14:34 in Game 6 taking on more playing time with Chris Tanev leaving the game in the second.

Stone sits in the press box for 80 percent of Flames games. And when he draws in, he’s ready. Stone might not be a perfect player. If he was he wouldn’t be a 7D, but Friday is a nice example of him injecting something the Flames need.

4. Tanev left the game in the second period after Michael Raffl’s goal. It looked like Tanev went down to block the shot, and Raffl, after scoring, landed right on the back of Tanev’s legs.

He went right to the locker after, skated for two shifts, left a second time and did not return. There was no update post game from Sutter.

Tanev is a critical piece of the Flames’ roster, and blue line. He’s a steady veteran, who racks up tough minutes at five-on-five and shorthanded. Him potentially not being available in Game 7 would be a tough blow.

5. What about Nikita Zadorov’s availability?

He made a big, high hit on Luke Glendening in the second period and it didn’t look good. Glendening looked wobbly and left the game immediately after. There was no call on the play.

“It’s a headshot,” Dallas coach Rick Bowness told TNT between the benches during the game. “He’s in concussion protocol.”

Glendening eventually returned to the bench but didn’t return to the ice. Still, it’s fair to wonder if Zadorov will hear about this from the Department of Player Safety. There was contact to the head. The question, the DOPS will likely be asking, is was it the principal point of contact?

Jacob Trouba didn’t get a fine for the high hit on Sidney Crosby. Darnell Nurse got one game for deliberately head-butting Phillip Danault. I don’t think a suspension is in the cards here, but I’ve stopped trying to predict the NHL’s disciplinary standards.

Update: Saturday morning, the Department of Player Safety announced Zadorov will have a hearing for the hit.

6. Outside of run-ins with John Klingberg and Jamie Benn, what kind of impact has Matthew Tkachuk had on this series?

I can tell you what Trevor Lewis has done. What Blake Coleman has done. Even Calle Jarnkrok who hasn’t scored since March 6 when he was still a Seattle jersey.

It’s tough to find Tkachuk’s mark through six games. He has four points, two of which are secondary assists, has been pulled off the first line at times, and hasn’t looked like the 100-point player he was in the regular season. The Flames need that Tkachuk in Game 7.

7. OK. On a more encouraging note for the Flames, Mikael Backlund has now had goals in three consecutive games.

I’ve been critical of Backlund at times during the season. He sometimes leaves something to be desired. That was true to start the series, he’s been solid since Game 4 for the Flames, likely benefiting from spins at five-on-five with Andrew Mangiapane and Blake Coleman on his wings. That is a good line for the Flames and you’d hope they stick together in Game 7.

One critique for Backlund, and other centres like Jarnkrok, is they need to be better in the faceoff circle: 32 percent, as in the Game 6 performance, which included clean losses that allowed Dallas to snap the puck back to Heiskanen, is not going to cut it.

8. Not really a game observation, but Johnny Gaudreau was not named a finalist for the Hart Trophy on Thursday. I made my position pretty clear this year. I believe he should have been in the top three, but so be it.

A lot of the talk around Gaudreau this year has been whether he can get it done in the playoffs. The series isn’t over, but Gaudreau has been good.

He has six points in six games and was the star in the series-tying Game 4 in Dallas.

“Johnny’s been really good in the playoffs,” Sutter said Thursday. “For me, he’s taken that step, 100 percent. He did it during the season. He’s done it during the playoffs. I’m proud of Johnny.”

9. Here’s Raffl, short and sweet, on Game 7: “It’s going to be war. I can’t wait.”

10. American Airlines Center gets loud. I’m sure the Flames will be glad to not go back there for Game 7.

“We’ve got home ice. That’s one of the advantages of how we finished the regular season,” Stone said Friday night. “We’re looking forward to a big Game 7.”

(Photo of Jake Oettinger and Matthew Tkachuk: Gerry Thomas / NHLI via Getty Images)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button