There has been plenty of top-line talk. It just hasn’t been about the Calgary Flames trio.
At least not in a positive way through the first three games of their second-round series against the Edmonton Oilers.
And with Game 4 a “critical” game for the Flames after falling behind 2-1 in the best-of-seven set, they’re going to need the best regular-season trio of Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk to make a difference against the Oil.
They were lit offensively on opening night, combining for four goals and eight points during a sloppy but electric Game 1 at the Saddledome.
In two successive losses, things have fizzled on both sides of the puck. They have four points together in the last two games. All assists. And in their head-to-head matchups with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Evander Kane, the league’s most impressive plus/minus trio in the regular season has crashed with a collective minus-11 rating.
Not the best metric on which to judge, but it’s indicative of the battles they’ve been losing.
“We got some guys that can play better,” Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said after the morning skate. “Generally, top players kind of control that part of the game pretty well.”
Sutter’s words were carefully chosen when asked specifically about the Lindholm line.
“They were a really good regular-season line for us,” he said.
But in the playoffs?
“Every game is like a life of its own, then a series becomes that. It’s how guys play against other guys – that’s what it boils down to in the end, always,” Sutter said. “That’s how it’s been forever. It’s not specific to one player.”
Flames need a “good road game”
Lindholm, who’s seen a whole lot of McDavid, said Tuesday they’d be more aware of having the right number of guys on the right side of the puck. They’ve given up too much off the rush, and haven’t possessed the puck nearly as much as they did during a regular-season to remember.
“We’ve been a really good line throughout the season and if we play like that as we had done, we’ll be fine,” Lindholm said.
There has been plenty of scrutiny around the goaltending of Jacob Markstrom. People continue to talk about how much defenceman Chris Tanev is missed.
The two things are probably very much tied together.
But in a series that is being dictated by top players, the Calgary Flames versions are going to have to find a way to make their impact felt against the Oilers.
“We’ve got to play a good road game. Everybody’s got all these philosophies about how we’re supposed to play or what we’re supposed to do. We’ve got to play a good road game,” said Sutter.
“I’ve been up 2-1, I’ve been down 2-1, I’ve been tied 3-3, I’ve been down 3-0, I’ve been up 3-0 … probably about every circumstance there would be. It’s about the game. Not last game or the next game, it’s about this game.
“We might play our best game of the year tonight. But do you win or do you lose? We’ll find out.”