More often than not, early Flames leads are something to be more than a little concerned about, and that held true in last night's loss to Vancouver. While watching the game I was informed by about three different people that they were up 2-0 and would win the game, to which I responded: "it's too early, they're going to lose." Unfortunately, my negativity proved prophetic on this night, and the home side went on to surrender the lead on two separate occasions and failed to recover when down a goal heading into the third period.
The opening frame saw the Flames make quick work of their opponents, as Mikael Backlund scored a beauty just 2:14 in when he stripped Mikael Samuelsson of the puck and beat Luongo one-on-one in close. It was a great display of skill that was probably the best part of this game.
The home side continued to build upon their lead just over a minute later when Matt Stajan tipped in his sixth of the season, but the Canucks' comeback would begin shortly thereafter when Ryan Kesler cut the Flames' lead in half with Mark Giordano in the penalty box. The Canucks would end up out-shooting the home side 12-7 in the first period after chasing for the majority of it, and you could definitely feel the tide beginning to turn.
The two teams would exchange tallies in the middle frame when Daniel Sedin scored his 36th of the season to tie the game at two just over a minute before David Moss restored the Flames' lead. After tying the game on an Alex Burrows marker at 15:41, the Canucks took the lead for good with just sixteen seconds remaining in period when Daniel Sedin scored one of his trademark side-of-the-net goals that he always seems to score against the Flames, putting his team up 4-3.
There would be no comeback for the home side in this one, as the Flames were fairly easily shut down in the final frame. Despite having the luxury of a late powerplay, the good guys only managed six shots on goal in the third period and couldn't generate much in the way of possession or sustained pressure on the Luongo and the Canucks' defence.
The Flames managed to keep up with Vancouver in terms of shots and chances at EV for the most part, but it was special teams where the home team faltered last night. Calgary had no shots on either of their two powerplays, gave up two man advantage goals, and surrendered a few shorthanded chances that weren't too shabby. After a surge up the special teams rankings in recent weeks, the Flames have begun to falter again in that department. After last night's game they sit at 13th in the league on the powerplay and 17th on the PK--not terrible, but decidedly average, which doesn't give me a lot of hope going forward.
There's no question this loss delivers a bit of a blow to the Flames and their post-season chances. They have just eleven games left in the season and could be surpassed by Los Angeles and either Phoenix or Anaheim by the end of the day. With the strength of the Flames' schedule against Western Conference opponents going forward, it's tough to stay positive about their chances after two uninspiring performances against their competitors in the Coyotes and, to a lesser degree, the Canucks. The good guys will have to do their best to earn at least a point in their remaining games against the heavyweights and take advantage of the less competitive teams over the course of the next few weeks, and it's not going to be easy--especially with a two-day break before their next game Tuesday against Phoenix.