The desperate Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday played like their playoff lives depended on it.
You probably expect that from a team many NHL watchers predicted would be one of the league’s top teams this season but who have stumbled and find themselves fighting for a playoff spot.
The Calgary Flames? The Pacific Division leaders unravelled following a closely played first period. More on that later.
With the NHL regular season drawing ever closer to a finish — just eight games left after Thursday’s game for the Flames, seven for VGK — Calgary served up a 6-1 turkey for the visitors to the Saddledome on Good Friday Eve.
“One team was more focussed, more urgent,” Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said following the loss.
Dillon Dube opened the scoring halfway through the first period, who snapped a power-play marker past Golden Knights goalie Logan Thompson for the early Flames lead. It didn’t take long for the Golden Knights to respond, however, with Jack Eichel tying the game three minutes later.
The top-line Vegas centre was one of six different players who registered goals Thursday night.
Forwards William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault each had a goal and two assists in the win to lead Vegas. Evgenii Dadanov, Michael Amadio and Nicolas Roy also tallied for the visitors, who now sit a point behind the Los Angeles Kings for third in the Pacific Division.
The loss ends the Flames’ five-game win streak.
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It was a night to forget for Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom, who was pulled midway through the second period in favour of backup Dan Vladar after allowing four goals on 17 shots. Vladar went six for eight in relief.
Thompson, a Calgary native, made 35 saves in the victory.
It was the second game in a row Markstrom was pulled early. The Flames’ workhorse netminder had left Tuesday’s game after 40 minutes down 3-1 to the Seattle Kraken before his team rallied in the third period for a 5-3 win.
After the tight play by both the Flames and the Golden Knights in the first period — Calgary backstopped by solid Markstrom netminding — things started to unravel in the wake of a Keegan Kolesar elbow late in the opening frame to the head of Flames defenceman Chris Tanev.
The Knights went up 2-1 early in the second on Dadanov’s goal just as a penalty to Milan Lucic ended, Lucic having tried unsuccessfully to fight Kolesar only to end up in the box by himself for holding. Following goals by Amadio and Marchessault 40 seconds apart, Sutter pulled Markstrom in favour of Vladar.
“I don’t like doing that (pulling goalies from games),” Sutter said. “I’m not a guy who pulls goalies, but tonight was different. I think the other night (against Seattle), it was (an attempt) to get momentum out of our team, but tonight, I thought our players really let him down so I didn’t want to leave him in there.”
The Flames return to action on Saturday at home to the Arizona Coyotes (8 p.m.)