The Calgary Flames were looking for a playoff hero to step up in Game 7.
Turns out it was the same one from the regular season.
Despite an insane display of goaltending from Jake Oettinger, who stopped 64 shots on the night, Johnny Gaudreau finally beat the 23-year-old backstop. His bad-angle rebound beat Oettinger 15:09 into overtime to give the Flames their first trip to the second round since 2015j wiht a 3-2 win.
“You dream about stuff like that, scoring in a Game 7 in overtime,” said Gaudreau, who said it was the biggest goal he’s ever scored. “Is that a question, really? C’mon, there’s no bigger stage than what we just did there. It was really special for me.”
If you were told that one team outshot the other 52-23 in regulation, and that two of their top players snapped slumps to score in Game 7, there would be little doubt about the outcome, right?
Maybe that should be Oettinger’s new nickname – Little Doubt. The Dallas Stars netminder was incredible again as the Calgary Flames dominated the majority of the game but needed nearly an entire extra period to escape with the win.
The Flames had 43 shots on goal by the end of the second period. Only a dozen against. But the game was still undecided with 20 minutes remaining in regulation.
Flames in a hole early
They played all year for the possibility of home ice in a Game 7 scenario. But with a fired-up sellout crowd ready to rock, the Flames did not the start they were looking for.
A solid hit by Mikael Backlund in the corner brought the crowd to life early. But that life was vacuumed out on the next shift as Jamie Benn picked a pivotal time to score his own first goal of the series.
Benn was left alone in the slot, and he beat Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom clean to the far side to give the Stars a lead just 40 seconds into the winner-take-all contest.
Missing their best shutdown defenceman Chris Tanev to an undisclosed injury, the Flames looked out of sorts in their own end for a good chunk of the first period.
It didn’t show it on the shot clock. Maybe not even at the scoreboard. But certainly at the quality of chances the Stars enjoyed in the Flames end, where they leaned heavily on their goaltender Markstrom.
The Calgary Flames backstop did his part to prevent an early blowout.
Benn’s tally in the opening minute was the only puck that beat Markstrom in the period, but so many others came close.
Markstrom stopped Joe Pavelski twice from in close as he outmuscled his coverage. Benn nearly had his second of the night during the Stars push for some padding in the second half of the frame. Saddledome villain John Klingberg also had a stellar opportunity but was rejected by Markstrom’s left pad.
Group settled down in second period
In Tanev’s absence, Oliver Kylington was paired with Michael Stone. That might be a solid third pairing, but it’s not ideal slotting second behind Hanifin and Andersson. The top pairing typically splits shutdown duties with Tanev, but they didn’t have that luxury on Sunday.
But the group seemed to settle in the second period. In both ends.
Tyler Toffoli snapped a long goal drought to score his first of the playoffs and tie things up just 1:46 into the second frame.
His perfect deflection of Kylington’s point shot beat the Oettinger up high on the glove side.
The Star responded quickly, though, with Vladislav Namestnikov scoring his first of the series (you’ll notice a trend there) just 31 seconds later on a perfect setup from Pavelski on the rush.
Matthew Tkachuk answered in similar fashion on a pass from Gaudreau to score – you guessed it – his first of the playoffs high glove on Oettinger.
Gaudreau stayed patient
Gaudreau could have had a few goals himself in regulation, if not for the Stars goaltender’s heroics.
Creating a breakaway chance with some fancy dangles, Gaudreau was rejected by the goalie’s glove. Later, it was the blocker. Then again with the glove. Gaudreau had four shots, most of them quality, through 40 minutes. Tkachuk had five.
Together they posted just three fewer than the entire Stars squad through the first two periods.
With nine minutes left to play, Gaudreau got a sneaky dish from Tkachuk and a great look at the goal but Oettinger anticipated the play so well he was there before the shot. In overtime, between the hashmarks, he had Oettinger down and was again robbed by the glove of the rookie goalie.
It was truly a goaltending performance for the ages. Gaudreau and the Calgary Flames just didn’t quit.
“We deserved to win. We took a hundred and some shots,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “If we’d lost, I know what you would have been saying. So we deserved to win.”