The hockey world expected chaos. But not like this. The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers haven’t played each other in the playoffs for 31 years.
On Wednesday night they took a time machine back to that era of high-scoring and shaky goaltending.
It was a far cry from the opening round series against the Dallas Stars. The Flames finished with 15 goals in seven games against Jake Oettinger and co. They scored more than half as many in the Battle of Alberta opener as they claimed a 9-6 victory in Game 1 of Round Two in dramatic fashion at the Saddledome.
You knew Matthew Tkachuk’s name would be mentioned in the chaos.
But it wasn’t for his antics.
The 24-year-old winger scored his first playoff hat-trick – including two in the third period – to lock up one of the strangest but most important wins in the franchise’s post-lockout history. Ugly as it may have been.
“Not good, not good at all. That’s probably our worst game of the playoffs so far,” Tkachuk said afterward. “We got super lucky. That’s just not the recipe for success. Maybe we win this one, but we’re not going to win many more if we’re going to play like that.”
Flames head coach Darryl Sutter agreed, but addressed the wild scoring throwback reminiscent of their last regular-season meeting.
“We missed the convert,” Sutter joked. “We were told that it was a boring series last time, so I told the players yesterday to score seven to 10 goals today, knowing full well that they’d probably score five to eight and then we could win. So that’s what we did.”
Setting an NHL record for fastest two goals to start a playoff game, the Flames put Mike Smith and the Oilers on their heels immediately.
Elias Lindholm, who also scored first in Round One against the Stars, sniped a long-distance shot past Smith just 26 seconds in.
Andrew Mangiapane scored his second of the post-season 25 seconds later and the Flames had a tidy 2-0 lead less than a minute into the most hyped playoff series in Canada in three decades.
Mangiapane was hanging out in the slot and somehow escaped any attention from Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse while he pounced on Mikael Backlund’s bouncing pass and smacked it past Smith.
Things were looking especially good when Brett Ritchie made it 3-0 at 6:05. The big winger scored twice all season but earned his first of the playoffs unassisted by shoving Evander Kane off the puck and then beating Smith.
That ended Smith’s evening.
But there was plenty more scoring to come.
Connor McDavid wasn’t about to be silenced. The Oilers captain scooped up a loose puck and a couple of dangles later plopped it past Jacob Markstrom to snap the dominant stretch and settle things down.
The Calgary Flames earned a standing ovation for their first period effort.
That was not the case after the second.
Hot start, rough finish in second period for Flames
Things started much the same as they did in the first, with Blake Coleman netting his first two goals of the playoffs back-to-back in the first six minutes to give the Flames what looked like a comfortable 5-1 lead.
Fast forward to the end of 40 minutes, though, and things were tense. The Flames were clinging to a 6-5 lead and looking less than confident. Markstrom was a shell of his first-round self. The checking game the Flames took great pride in and nearly perfected throughout the regular season and first round of these playoffs was abandoned.
It was a good thing they weren’t facing Smith and Mikko Koskinen and not Jake Oettinger.
After Coleman’s pair – a rebound and a deflection – had the Saddledome crowd in ecstasy, Evan Bouchard’s goal on a perfect pass from McDavid showed the Oilers had some life.
Matthew Tkachuk scored to restore the four-goal lead, but three straight from the Oilers had those wearing orange and blue in the crowd rocking.
Zach Hyman scored his third and fourth of the post-season on consecutive shifts, grinding down the Flames lead.
The limping Leon Draisaitl, rumoured to be playing with a significant ankle injury, added another punch to the Flames’ collective gut in the dying minute of the period with a sneaky shot that beat Markstrom.
When Kailer Yamamoto tied it 1:28 into the third period, all bets were off.
But Rasmus Andersson answered back at 2:57, and Tkachuk scored his third and fourth of the playoffs to send the Calgary Flames fans’ hats flying.