He took a licking, but Johnny Gaudreau kept on ticking. The Calgary Flames star overcame an early shot to the head to score the biggest goal of his NHL career on a penalty shot in the third period.
The perfectly executed one-on-one showdown move saw Gaudreau fake a forehand shot and pull it to the backhand, releasing it perfectly through Jake Oettinger’s legs for the five-hole goal. It gave the Calgary Flames a 2-0 lead near the midway mark of the third period. They didn’t look back.
The 4-1 Flames victory tied their NHL playoff series at 2-2, giving the Flames home-ice advantage in what’s now a best-of-three scenario.
“He’s good on breakaways,” head coach Darryl Sutter said of Gaudreau with a shrug post-game. “He’s got lots of different moves. This one worked.”
For the first time in this post-season, the Flames looked like the quick-strike team capable of making any squad in the league look helpless barring a heroic effort from their goalie. The Stars got that from Oettinger. But the 23-year-old’s force field was finally penetrated as the Flames peppered him with pucks.
Rasmus Andersson opened the scoring with his first of the playoffs. It came on a long five-on-three powerplay.
Gaudreau nearly added his second goal of the 2022 playoffs on his next shift following the penalty shot, but his bad-angle shot off the back of Oettinger’s legs bounced just wide.
The Flames’ 50th shot – off the stick of sniper Elias Lindholm – beat the Stars netminder a few minutes later and the team finally seemed to relax and play the game that got them to this point.
The Stars got one back from Tyler Seguin on a late powerplay, but Mikael Backlund netted his first goal in 21 games to add a little more insurance and round out the scoring.
Flames stars taking a beating on and off ice
Both Gaudreau and Tkachuk have taken literal and figurative beatings lately. The public outcry that neither can translate their regular-season success into the playoffs was growing louder by the minute.
Meanwhile, Tkachuk was telling media members that he felt the entire team would just continue to get better as the series progressed.
Turns out he might be right.
On a night Gaudreau may have been concussed, and Tkachuk was sewn up, they three important points in a game that was as close to must-win as any non-elimination contest can be.
Gaudreau took a head shot from Vlad Namestnikov in the opening minutes and wobbled his way off the ice. He played on for a bit then left the ice before the end of the first. Tkachuk was cut by an errant skate in a collision on the boards and needed stitches between periods.
Their play in the third period was a statement. As was the total of 53 shots on Oettinger. The Flames committed to making life more difficult for the impressive youngster. That count was a franchise playoff record.
All that action on an evening they were short a forward. A late Brett Ritchie scratch meant a first playoff appearance for defenceman Michael Stone. The Calgary Flames rolled with 11 forwards and seven defencemen.
Their one goalie was as good as Gaudreau and Tkachuk in the clutch.
Jacob Markstrom made 34 saves, including some massive stops that left some of the Stars looking skyward.
The series shifts back to Calgary for Game 5 on Wednesday.