There was a lot of hitting, but not much of it was meaningful impact for the Calgary Flames.
Despite coming out aggressively and energetic in the early going, the home side had a lot of trouble connecting with the net against the stingy Dallas Stars.
If anyone thought the first-round NHL playoff series was going to be easy, think again.
The Stars smother. And although the Calgary Flames were the better of the two in Game 1 and deserved their 1-0 victory, the Stars found better balance with some line changes. The result was a sluggish, off-kilter night for the Flames.
And a 2-0 win for the Stars to even the series.
Consider that the top trio of Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm combined for more than 120 goals in the regular season. Each of them hit the 40 mark on the year and they dominated possession time more often than not.
They’ll have to find their collective stride and find a way to bust through a dedicated group of checkers, who came into the post-season as an underrated group because of their spot in the Central Division.
As Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter suggested this week, the Stars might have won the division if they were playing in the Pacific.
It was his Flames who came away with that banner, but their game hasn’t yet translated amid the playoff squeeze. The fourth line is playing some of the more meaningful minutes. That’s a statement in itself. There’s been little threat of secondary scoring. Of course, you can’t have secondary scoring if you’re not even generating enough chances to earn primary scoring.
There’s plenty of time, of course, with the series slated for seven games if necessary.
However, the nearly 20,000 fans in attendance on Thursday didn’t get to enjoy much in the way of offensive opportunities on the night, despite the misleading 29 shots that were eventually posted on the Jumbotron.
The Flames did make a push in the third period. But there wasn’t enough traffic in front of Stars netminder Jake Oettinger to make it overly challenging.
At least the fans enjoyed an exciting start.
Gaudreau even believed for a moment that he had scored the game’s opening goal on the first shift. But the breakaway pass was offside. And what happened afterward was really the most exciting things got for the Saddedome faithful.
With defencemen John Klingberg and Rasmus Andersson both in the starting lineup, you knew things could get interesting early. But it was Tkachuk who made the opening statement.
Responding to Klingberg’s post-game comments in Game 1 suggesting the Stars would “go after” Andersson after the two got tossed from Tuesday’s contest, Tkachuk saw an opportunity on his first shift.
Gaudreau didn’t hear the whistle blowing down the offside play and went in to score on Stars goalie Jake Oettinger. That drew a crowd around the Calgary Flames star. It also provided Tkachuk the window he needed to pounce on Klingberg.
The beating was more verbal than physical. Tkachuk did his best to pull Klingberg’s head out of the clutches of the officials. Failing that, he berated the big blueliner on the way to the penalty box.
Tkachuk played down the war of words on Wednesday when asked about Klingberg’s comments.
“I don’t even know what that means, going after somebody. But I think we’ve got enough guys who can handle ourselves outside of Ras, who can handle himself quite well,” Tkachuk said.
But he had more words for Klingberg while up close and personal.
The Flames were extremely physical during the opening 20 minutes on Thursday. But they found themselves trailing 1-0 after the first period after Joe Pavelski redirected a Jason Robertson shot from the point. Michael Raffl added an empty netter.
An uncharacteristic giveaway on a messy breakout led to first goal, which was enough to win on the night. It was a symptom of a Calgary Flames team that was generally out of sync with the Stars dominating much of the five-on-five play.
That was a strong point for both teams during the regular season.
The Flames will have to re-discover it as they head to Dallas tied 1-1 in the series.