Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said earlier in the day that the team needed a difference maker.
Turns out a whole crew answered the call.
A perfect penalty kill was a critical component of the Flames’ 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets. It snapped a deflating seven-game losing streak. And the relief was evident after their hard work finally paid off with a victory.
It bumped them back to .500 at 6-6-2.
The Winnipeg Jets didn’t get a single shot on their powerplays, including more than a minute of five-on-three action in their favour.
It’s probably no coincidence that blueliner Chris Tanev returned after sitting out a few games with an upper-body injury.
But while Tanev and Co. provided some stellar defence, the killers added some offence, too. Mikael Backlund and Trevor Lewis connected for one of the most exciting plays of the game to give the Flames their third lead of the game late in the second period.
Backlund made an incredible flip pass to himself to escape the zone, and the Jets were caught off guard by the touch on the puck, which Backlund picked up in stride.
He zipped up the ice and found teammate Trevor Lewis across the ice. Lewis cut back into the middle and deked Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck to make it 3-2 with less than two minutes to play in the middle period.
They followed that up almost immediately killing more penalties, with Jacob Markstrom taking a tripping penalty on the next rush. Defenceman Rasmus Andersson shoved Pierre-Luc Dubois into the crease and Markstrom snuck the left pad into his legs to send the Jets centre tumbling into the end boards.
Dubois was livid and Nikita Zadorov had to hold him back from going after his goalie for revenge. They never got it.
For the sixth straight game, the Calgary Flames scored first.
Elias Lindholm got his stick on a shot/pass by Adam Ruzicka and deflected it past Hellebuyck just 3:23 into the game.
The Jets tied it up on a bit of a lucky break. After Tanev failed to connect with Kevin Rooney to clear the zone, Neal Pionk’s shot hit defence partner Connor Mackey and fooled Markstrom.
Ruzicka scored one himself next.
The 23-year-old was a healthy scratch in 10 of the Flames’ first 11 games. But he’s been one of the team’s best players since filling in for the injured Jonathan Huberdeau on the top line,
It’s hard to imagine him sitting in the press box again. His go-ahead goal finished off a nice pass from Lindholm with less than three minutes left in the opening period.
The Jets got the equalizer from Dubois as the teams exchanged goals in the second period.
But they couldn’t beat Markstrom, even after emptying their net for the extra attacker.
Of the 21 saves he made, the best might have been his windmill stop. He flipped his pads around in the air and followed with the glove to stone Mark Scheifele midway through the first period.
The coach said a couple of things needed to improve to get out of the funk the Flames were in. One was shooting percentage. The other was save percentage.
Markstrom was up to the task with a .913 on the night.
And with that, the Calgary Flames’ epic losing streak was over.