Darryl Sutter doesn’t care what you think. The Calgary Flames head coach will do as he pleases, even if it means contradicting himself.
He can say he’ll play Nick Ritchie in the top six or not at all, then throw him out on the bottom of the lineup. He can scratch Jakob Pelletier and Walker Duehr, two of their most energetic young players, and say later he was looking for some energy.
He can play his underperforming big-money players minimally while trying to get them going.
In the end, his Calgary Flames accomplished something on Thursday night that they’ve never done. They beat the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena.
Alanis Morrissette would be proud.
And the Flames did it with a monster third period, adding four goals in the final frame while allowing just five shots against to take a 7-2 victory and keep their narrow NHL playoff hopes alive for at least a little longer.
They’re not done yet.
“We have played so many one-goal games this year, you could have easily just walked away and said, ‘Ah hell, this ain’t going to work,’” Sutter told reporters in Vegas post-game. “That hasn’t happened with our club yet.”
Despite all the disappointment in a season that started with so much hope, the negativity that outside sources suggest can filter through the room at times, and the barbaric nature of losing so many one-goal games — 14 alone in overtime — there have been few signs of resignation with a baker’s dozen remaining on the schedule.
Tyler Toffoli led the way on Thursday with a pair of goals and four points, and Blake Coleman came through with the winning goal at a critical point of the game. But even though the Golden Knights wore the green jerseys in warmup ahead of St. Patrick’s Day, the puck luck was firmly with the Calgary Flames as they pulled away in the third period. Mikael Backlund’s pass attempt from behind the goal-line hit a stick, then Jonathan Quick’s helmet before it bounced back into the net to give the Flames a 4-2 cushion.
“Lucky bounce,” Backlund shrugged. “But I’ll take it.”
Those bounces haven’t come very often in Vegas, where they entered the evening with a 7-0-1 record.
“Especially in this arena, I feel like there’s been some (unlucky) breaks before,” Backlund, added. “It feels good winning here after being part of all the losses. It feels really good to break that record or spell, whatever you call it.”
There was some luck on the out-of-town scoreboard, too, with the Winnipeg Jets losing to the Boston Bruins. The Chicago Blackhawks beat the even more frightening Nashville Predators, too. The Flames are just three points out of the final wildcard spot right now.
Doesn’t sound as impossible as it did 24 hours ago.
And maybe Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri aren’t the guys who have to come through every night, either. Split up as Sutter shuffled up his lines, Kadri played fourth-line minutes with Milan Lucic and Trevor Lewis on his flanks. Huberdeau got Backlund and Coleman but took a backseat to both.
Toffoli, meanwhile, equaled a career high by reaching 60 points. He and Backlund have been the team’s MVPs up front all season.
“I came into the season wanting to prove something,” Toffoli said. “I know I am (a first-liner), but other people thought differently. I’ve kind of done that my whole career. People have doubted me at times, and I’ve rose to the occasion.
“I just want to get into the playoffs and make some noise.”
The road is long but they crossed one previously impossible task off the list on Thursday.