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Hats off to Gaudreau as Flames topple Cup giants

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Relentless. If there’s one word to describe the Calgary Flames’ when they’re dialed in like they were against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night, that’s probably it.

It started and ended with superstar Johnny Gaudreau – fully recovered from his late-game leg-lock with Tom Wilson on Tuesday. Gaudreau’s sixth NHL hat-trick triggered a storm of headwear sent to the ice from the crowd, and gave the Flames a 4-1 lead with a half-dozen minutes to play.

That was the final score, with the Bolts barely able to conjure another meaningful chance at cracking netminder Jacob Markstrom.

The Calgary Flames were too physical. Too dominant. An unrelenting forecheck and ferocious backcheck makes it tough to possess the puck for any length of time.

Welcome to the Saddledome, the league’s oldest rink – and arguably its most hostile. At least it has been with the Flames playing elite hockey over the last couple of months.

“Good effort. Good pace to our game,” Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter summed up after the well-earned victory.

Through nearly 40 minutes, the game was an exchange of opportunities. Two tremendous teams playing fast hockey and featuring two stellar goaltenders.

But with all the firepower the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning have in the lineup. It was the Flames’ lightning bug Gaudreau who did most of the damage on the night.

And he did it in a special way.

Gaudreau gets creative to beat league’s best

Creatively, Gaudreau scored twice from behind the goal-line against one of the league’s best netminders. He banked one in off Andrei Vasilevskiy’s rear end on the powerplay 7:35 into the first period to give the Calgary Flames the opening goal. With a minute left to play in the second, the score knotted at 1-1, Gaudreau did it again from the same spot – this time banking the puck in off Vasilevskiy’s shoulder.

In the third period, the Flames’ most exciting offensive weapon beat Vasilevskiy a third time – this time in plain sight. He blasted a shot far side, top shelf on a setup from Elias Lindholm.

“He’s capable of doing it every day, every game,” Sutter raved about Gaudreau’s goals from in close. “That’s what the top guys do in this league.

“He has been a top guy. I’ve said that all year. He’s a top player in the league. Top guys play on good teams. Makes a difference.”

The soul-crushing goal, though, might have belonged to Mikael Backlund in the dying seconds of the middle frame. Backlund redirected a slap pass from Erik Gudbranson into the net to give the Calgary Flames a two-goal lead they’d never look back from.

In fact, they looked eager to pile on more in the third period. There was no sitting back on their skates to protect the lead. They went on the attack.

And while the Flames allowed the Bolts 10 high-danger changes over the first 40 minutes, according to NaturalStatTrick, the Lightning had only one in the final period.

It was quite a response to the loss to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday, and it came in the Flames’ third game in four nights. They’re now 18-4-1 since the last time they dropped consecutive games in January.

They’ve developed a killer instinct, and they took down a giant.

Led by they’re most diminutive star.

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