Takeaways: Flames on Brink of Elimination after Failing Comeback Bid
A horrific first period, a stellar second and a heartbreaking third. The Calgary Flames now find themselves on the brink of elimination after a 5-3 loss in Game 4 to the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night.
Head coach Darryl Sutter foreshadowed the worst-case scenario after the morning skate, suggesting that his Calgary Flames could very well play their best game of the series and still wasn’t sure if they’d come away as the winners.
That’s exactly what happened. The Flames found a way to slow Connor McDavid AND come back from a 3-0 deficit. Scoring from 140 feet away from the net to tie the game usually means momentum is in your favour. However, one final breakdown led to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ second goal of the game, which turned out to be the winner with three and a half minutes in regulation.
“I thought we showed a lot of resolve or resilience,” Sutter said post-game. “I liked how we played. We’re in a hole, but now we’ve got to win at home. We hung around tonight.”
Nugent-Hopkins and Evander Kane scored twice each, with Zach Hyman earning his fifth of the series. Mikael Backlund, Elias Lindholm and Rasmus Andersson answered for the Flames.
Entertainment value was top notch, but the task at hand is an epic one for the Calgary Flames – who have to win three straight against the Oilers to advance.
Now to some takeaways.
Tanev plays hurt – did that hurt the Flames?
Chris Tanev came back for the first time since Game 6 of the first round and earned a bit of a mixed review.
Although the top defender helped settle the blue line, his injured right shoulder didn’t help him in the kind of battles the Calgary Flames can’t afford to lose. Case in point, a powerplay goal by Zach Hyman in the first period.
Hyman had position on Tanev in the battle and physically dominated the Flames defenceman to pounce on the loose puck in the crease.
Tanev gutted out more than 19 minutes of action but was visibly favouring his shoulder on a number of occasions. On one hand, he was a calming presence, and the checking game was definitely an improvement. However, Tanev’s struggles with his strength may have hurt them, too.
“He wanted to play the last two games. I was just at a point where it was up to him and the medical staff,” said Sutter. “I thought it was a gutsy effort.”
Markstrom not the biggest problem
The game didn’t start on a high note for the Calgary Flames goaltender who is surprisingly the one being bashed in this series. Jacob Markstrom got unlucky on his first attempt to play the buck. It took a funny hop off the boards and his attempted pass went off the heel of his stick right to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins just 21 seconds in. RNH had an empty cage and didn’t miss as Markstrom helplessly dove toward the crease hoping for a miracle.
By the end of the first period, he had allowed two more. One to Hyman on a powerplay and another on a shot by Evander Kane from the high slot that tipped off Nikita Zadorov’s stick into the top corner. It would have taken a miracle to stop.
Cue the critics.
But man, did Markstrom ever redeem himself.
He made a handful of stellar stops in the second period to allow the Calgary Flames to climb back. He saved his best for the third. The Flames got the tying goal not long after Markstrom make an incredible cross-crease read to rob Leon Draisaitl.
“It’s a big save,” Sutter said.
“It’s part of battling back. You’ve got to go deep down in there and grab onto it.”
Anyone who thinks Markstrom was to blame for that loss is dead wrong – in spite of the early bobble. He finished with just 21 saves but many of them came on high-danger chances.
Hyman a handful
We’ve talked a lot about McDavid in this series but Hyman has been a real handful and that was on display again on Tuesday.
While the Calgary Flames did a really good job keeping McDavid relatively quiet, Hyman scored a massive goal in the first period – his fifth of the series – and kept the play alive in the Flames zone on the winning goal. He’s showing his value at this time of year.
On his goal, Hyman was hanging out at the far post and McDavid blasted a shot his way. He outmuscled Tanev to establish position on the loose puck and made sure it got past Markstrom to give the Oilers a two-goal lead early.
He didn’t show up on the scoresheet on his play on Nugent-Hopkins’ second of the game but the winner was only possible because Hyman took defenceman Michael Stone out of the play on the forecheck to set up the series on the other side.
Flames top line still MIA
Elias Lindholm had an important goal to start the comeback in the second period, but that came on the powerplay. The top line was shut out at even strength and the Calgary Flames are going to need them to have their best game of the series to avoid elimination on Thursday.
Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk had a couple of scoring chances between them but continue to struggle to score against Mike Smith.
Smith is a sideshow
Speaking of Smith, the cagey veteran let in one of the longest goals against in NHL history, with a 138-footer from Rasmus Andersson slipping into the net on the glove side to tie the game at 3-3 with half a period to play.
“I can laugh now, right?” Smith said post-game. “I can’t think of a time in my career where I completely lost track of where a puck went.”
Andersson has a cannon and he knew he might have a shot with Smith not moving on the Oilers penalty kill. He definitely caught him off guard.
“I thought for a second that has a chance to go in,” Andersson said afterward. “It was a game of bounces both ways. They got a lucky one and we got a lucky one.”
The final word
“We hung around tonight,” said Sutter. “We’re not going to go away easy.”