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Under Pressure: Excitement, Fun over Fear for Flames

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Calgary Flames Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk are two stars on a top heavy team

Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk were both on the Calgary Flames podium on Thursday.

Ahead of the biggest game either of them has played in the NHL, the wingers were front and centre for the media and fans. If the Flames are going to have a positive outcome and avoid elimination, they’ll have to be front and centre on the ice, too.

It’s simple, really. As much talk as there has been about the Calgary Flames goaltending, the inability to shut down Connor McDavid and a shortened Edmonton Oilers bench, it really boils down to this one game.

A game that’s supposed to be fun.

“We’re super excited to be where we’re at today,” Gaudreau said on Thursday. “I really enjoy playing with all these guys in this locker-room. We have a good group in there. It’s been fun all year long. Every guy is really motivated in there.

“We know where we’re at in the series. Take it one game at a time, have fun playing tonight in front of our fans here, in front of a sold-out crowd, and go from there.”

There was plenty of fun to be found in Game 1, a 9-6 Flames victory, which featured a Tkachuk hat-trick. It wasn’t their best two-way effort, but the result was what they wanted. With three straight losses, there have only been fleeting moments of fun. Maybe most notable was the three-goal comeback that ultimately fell short in their last period in Edmonton.

Needless to say, the talk in this town has been rather despondent this week.

But Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter pointed out an interesting angle on Thursday morning. Typically, the topics in each town focus on what their team is doing or not doing. In the case of three straight losses to the Oilers, the context has been pretty negative in Calgary.

Jacob Markstrom’s deflated save percentage. The discombobulated defence. A lack of offence from the Flames stars.

Rarely are these things from a lack of effort. Hockey players don’t get to the NHL without the elite internal drive and competitive nature.

“You have to give Edmonton credit in that, too,” Sutter said on Thursday. “Maybe our guys are doing all they can, maybe Edmonton’s just doing a little bit better right now. Nobody’s talked about that.

“It’s always been about the negative, what about the good stuff that’s going on?”

Plenty of that good stuff has been on display during a stellar regular season, and at times during a tough first round against the Dallas Stars.

Gaudreau and Tkachuk may find a way to rise again and prolong this Calgary Flames season, but they know it’s not just about them. You don’t beat any team, let alone one with McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Evander Kane, without a group effort that’s nearly flawless.

“At this point in the series, we need everybody,” said Tkachuk, who has four points in the series but just one since the opener and none the past two games. “We’ve needed everybody all year. We have such a deep team. It really has got to be a complete team effort if we want to win here tonight.”

Including the C of Red.

“We know that our fans are going to bring it,” said Tkachuk “We love playing in front of them and we’ve been a great team all year at home. Hopefully we can use that to our advantage.”

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