Fatigue shows up in many ways. For the Calgary Flames, there were a few obvious examples in a game that went from excellent to excrement over the final 20 minutes.
In a back-to-back situation ending a five games in eight nights stretch, it showed up more mentally than physically. But it was most obvious in overtime, when one of the savviest veterans made a decision that was quickly followed by game’s deciding goal.
Mikael Backlund, who’s been on an offensive tear lately, darted to the Flames bench while Jack Eichel carried the puck back behind his own blueline. But the Vegas Golden Knights star quickly turned back up the ice and took advantage of a three-on-two rush with Jonathan Marchessault and Alex Pietrangelo.
Marchessault rang his shot off the crossbar, but Pietrangelo was all alone to sweep the puck into the net behind Flames goaltender Dan Vladar.
Game over. The Knights win 4-3 in extra time to complete their comeback.
“I saw him pulling back. I knew he was going to try and get some speed and read the play. I just thought it was a chance … skated up and down twice, felt a little tired and felt it was good to get a fresh body in," Backlund told reporters in Vegas after the loss.
“Obviously not the best choice I made.”
Head coach Darryl Sutter was pretty forgiving — at least publicly — giving credit to Eichel for seizing the opportunity.
“I think (Backlund) probably thought that Eichel was going to change, too,” Sutter said. “They were both at the end of the shift. I think Eichel probably saw that and made the nice play.”
It definitely put a damper on Backlund’s impressive four-game goal streak and five-game point streak. He has eight points in that span and has been arguably the Calgary Flames’ best player since the calendar flipped to 2023.
The 33-year-old gave the Flames a 3-1 lead late in the second period after Eichel cut into a 2-0 edge a couple of minutes earlier to get the Knights on the board.
It was the Knights’ league-leading 10th come-from behind victory.
It was the Flames’ league-leading 22nd loss in a one-goal game.
There’s a reason one of these teams is looking like a Pacific Division champion and the other a wild-card hopeful – at best.
Vladar was deep in his crease on the second Knights goal. Another sign of fatigue creeping in during his first consecutive starts on back-to-back nights on the heels of a big win over the Arizona Coyotes less than 24 hours earlier.
“It’s tough not to win it,” Backlund said of the collapse, which saw Zach Whitecloud and William Carrier tie the game in the third period.
The Flames had just one shot over the final 20 minutes as they went from buzzing to bumbling — getting away from the pace and style they played for the better part of the first 40.
“We sat back too much in the third – that’s why we lost the game,” Backlund said. “We talk about it all the time, we have to check, not defend. I think that’s the biggest change from the first, into the second and the third.
“We started to defend more and more as the game went on and that’s when they took advantage.”
It felt like just a matter of time before the Knights drew even. And in typical hard-luck fashion, the potential winning goal off the stick of Flames defenceman Rasmus Andersson hit the crossbar as the end of regulation approached.
Still, it was the first point the Flames have ever earned at T-Mobile Arena, and they showed once again that they can dominate against the best — even if it’s not for a full 60 minutes.
Rookie Jakob Pelletier had his second straight two-point night with another goal and assist. The 21-year-old opened the scoring on the powerplay in the first period and set up linemate Jonathan Huberdeau 1:24 into the second to give the Flames a two-goal lead that lasted through three quarters of the period.
Another silver lining.
“It’s tough,” said Sutter, pointing out it was the team’s fifth game in eight nights.”Obviously, I was concerned with that five in eight and that quick turnaround. But you’ve gotta stay positive.”