The Canucks honoured Pat Quinn to start the game. Pat Quinn refused to shut up. Then we were off: game 82, a whimper of a game for a whimper of a season.
The Flames got a pretty good start to this game. The fourth line got a bunch of odd man rushes, somehow (these are the Canucks Vancouver deserves); the Flames' actual NHL players generated chances; and Bill Arnold and, more importantly, Johnny Gaudreau made their debuts.
Hobey Baker winner Johnny Gaudreau spent his first five seconds as an NHL pro stealing a puck and starting a scoring chance. He's good.— SB Nation NHL (@SBNationNHL) April 14, 2014
And he kept doing that. The entire period. Every shift. Not to get totally ahead of myself, but also to totally get ahead of myself, Johnny Hockey might be hockey personified. Hockey in a little 5'9" (allegedly), 160 lbs. soaking wet package.
But it's Gaudreau's first game, and he can't be out there to steal the puck and do everything perfectly all the time. The Canucks were able to gain the Flames' zone and set up shop. Jason Garrison shot the puck from the point, and after some pinballing, it ended up at David Booth's feet. While falling down, he shot it in, it bounced off Daniel Sedin, and then off Karri Ramo. It was a bizarre, bouncy goal to put the Canucks up 1-0.
But enough of that. A little after, Gaudreau, while backchecking, drew an interference penalty off of Yannick Weber. And then he played on the Flames' second powerplay unit. The Flames didn't score, but... man... guys, Gaudreau. He's just. Gaudreau.
Kevin Westgarth is not Johnny Gaudreau, in case you were wondering. A goon line scrum in front of Vancouver's net resulted in Westgarth being sent off for roughing. The Canucks scored on the ensuing powerplay as Ramo gave up one too many rebounds, allowing Daniel Sedin to collect the final one and snipe the puck right under the bar to put his team up 2-0.
Gaudreau watch update! He left Bill Arnold and Paul Byron, swapping places with TJ Galiardi to play with Matt Stajan and Jiri Hudler, otherwise known as "hey wait those guys are quality established NHL veterans and this is a 20-year-old's second ever NHL period. Fun!"
There were some decent saves by Ramo, another Westgarth penalty - this time for closing his hand on the puck, not anything truculent - but not much happened until about midway through the period, when Frank Corrado got his first NHL goal to extend Vancouver's lead to 3-0. He shot the puck and it went in off Chad Billins, who was standing out in front of his goalie.
Ninety-three seconds later, and we got to witness something magical. Gaudreau skated the puck into the Canucks' zone. He passed it across to Chris Breen, who passed it up to Sean Monahan in the corner. Monahan passed it back down to Breen, who shot the puck towards the net. The puck bounced off Joe Colborne, and was going to go wide of the Canucks' net - until Gaudreau. With his stick blade down on the ice, Gaudreau redirected the puck just between Jacob Markstrom's post and pad for his first NHL goal in his first NHL game.
Mikael Backlund (@mbacklund11) April 14, 2014
And Monahan grabbed the puck for him!
Johnny Gaudreau with the puck...his first NHL Goal! pic.twitter.com/eZu43QP99V— Roger Millions (@RogMillions) April 14, 2014
Things were progressing pretty standardly until, with a little under three minutes remaining in the period, Paul Byron drove Daniel Sedin into the glass. Sedin's teammates immediately grabbed Byron as Sedin went down. He was conscious, but not moving, and had to be stretchered off the ice and taken to hospital. (For the record, he can still move all his extremities, and will hopefully be just fine.)
Byron, meanwhile, saw his season end as he was given a five minute major for boarding, and a game misconduct that will carry an automatic review with it.
The Canucks were able to score once more before the period ended. The Flames had been doing a pretty good job on the penalty kill prior to Yannick Weber's shot, which went fivehole on MacDonald and in to put them up 5-1.
The final period of the Flames' season began with the Canucks still on the powerplay, although not the greatest start for them as Monahan got a shorthanded breakaway. Markstrom didn't even give him a chance, though, and Byron's major ended without further event.
Just after the penalty ended, Lance Bouma hit Ryan Stanton into the Flames' bench - literally. The bench door opened as Stanton fell in. Fortunately, everyone was okay and nothing erupted as a result of this; good news in a game that had suddenly generated a tense atmosphere.
Anyway, Gaudreau got to start this period with Monahan and Colborne, because he's the most popular person in this game. And also the greatest and the best.
And not to be left out, Bill Arnold nearly got his own first NHL goal. Arnold found himself on a two-on-one with Mark Giordano, but the puck just hopped over his stick: otherwise it would have been an easy tap-in for the other BC boy's first.
Kris Russell's season ended a touch prematurely, as well, after blocking a few shots in the dying minutes of the game.
Curtis Glencross came really close to scoring with a little over two minutes to go, twice, but Jacob Markstrom was having a really good game to close out his season, and stopped him both times.
With under a minute to go on the season, Bouma drew a hooking penalty by driving to the net. And thus, the Flames' first complete rebuilding season closed with a whimper as they finished in 27th place in the league.
- Johnny Gaudreau is worthy of the hype. He might not live up to it, because there's been a LOT of hype, but he's certainly worthy of it. In his NHL debut, he played 15:11 - fifth in Flames forward ice time - scored one goal, recorded one shot on net, and had one takeaway. As for his fancier of stats, he debuted with a 57.9 CF% - third on the team - with 11 CF and 8 CA. His zone starts were at 28.6%, and he primarily faced Alexander Edler and Kevin Bieksa. Not the easiest minutes for a rookie, but he really proved himself in this game: he was consistently strong on the puck, didn't seem to have too much trouble against bigger and stronger NHLers, and got the Flames' final goal of the season. He may spend some time in the AHL next season - he is still rather tiny, and 82 games is a lot, more than he's ever played in one year - but so far, he's excellent and an absolute thrill to watch.
- With no disrespect to Bill Arnold, of course. Arnold opened with 13:35 of ice time (ninth for Flames forwards, ahead of Brian McGrattan, Kevin Westgarth, and TJ Galiardi), a hit, and at 56% on faceoffs. He finished even on corsi, with 10 shot attempts for and 10 against (50%, and fifth on the Flames). He actually faced slightly easier minutes than Gaudreau, but was ultimately solid out there in his pro-debut, and should look to be a great piece in Abbotsford next season.
- With TJ Brodie sitting this game, Chris Butler, Kris Russell, and Mark Giordano really took the bulk of the Flames' defensive minutes. It's probably not a stretch to say that Mark Cundari, Chad Billins, and Chris Breen aren't exactly in the Flames' long term plans. Cundari will be sent back to the Chicago Wolves for the AHL playoffs, and there's a pretty decent chance their first round opponent will be the Abbotsford Heat.
- Karri Ramo probably didn't end the season the way he wanted to. While he was playing excellently the last several games, and it looked like the Flames might have found their new number one, leaving the game with a .800 SV% isn't exactly great. Ramo is still capable of being a very good goalie for the Flames, and still has another year on his deal, so he should be back as the starter, but this might help temper expectations a bit, and that's not a bad thing.
- This is a Flames blog, so I'll say this: it's a shame to see Paul Byron's season end this way. In a rebuilding season filled with losses and generally bad hockey, Byron was one of the few bright spots for the Flames. He was called up in November and never looked back, as the 24-year-old finally started to show that he might be able to be an NHL regular. His scoring stats aren't eye popping, but he served as one of the Flames' better possession players, and has the potential to be a mainstay on the Flames' middle six.
Yes, the hit was bad. No, Paul Byron is not the devil incarnate. He's an average hockey player who made a horrible mistake, and may face supplemental discipline that will carry over to next season. And yes, he'll probably start next season on the Flames. And yes: we all hope Daniel Sedin is okay and will be able to have a healthy, productive off-season and be ready to go for 2014-15.
- UFA watch: Kevin Westgarth, Chris Butler, and Joey MacDonald may have played their final games for the Flames tonight. All three are now set to become free agents. Of the three, the only one I would realistically expect back is Butler. Butler is the only player to have played all 82 games for the Flames this season, and he played the most out of everyone tonight, collecting 27:24 of ice time. That would indicate the Flames may have a high enough of an opinion on Butler to bring him back.
As for Westgarth and MacDonald: MacDonald's old, and probably not much longer for the NHL, if at all (he spent the bulk of this season in the AHL, but didn't really play much). Westgarth? Burke wants multiple tough guys, McGrattan is under contract for another year, but so is Bryce Van Brabant. It's tough to say what's going to happen there.