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The Great Return: Flames vs. Canucks Game One Recap

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All praise be to Kris Russell.

Rich Lam/Getty Images

For the next four to seven games, the Flames are matched up against the hated Canucks in some of the most anticipated games of the first round. Flames fans didn't need to be to told to be excited; it'd been six long years since the Flames made the playoffs, and tonight was the triumphant return to the postseason. The Flames stayed true to form, and delivered an exciting, meaningful win to take a 1-0 series lead.

Both teams were flying straight after puck drop, with both sides getting some good early pressure. It was the crazy, energetic play we all expect from playoff hockey, and the game was shaping up to be a good one. The play soon settled down, and the Flames returned back to their usual style of play. Meaning getting hemmed in the zone for periods of time.

One of the interesting stories headed into this series was top prospect Sam Bennett. His NHL debut was more of an exhibition game, and this would be his first real taste of pro hockey. He did not disappoint. Put on a line with Mikael Backlund and Joe Colborne, the trio were the obvious standouts for the first period. If Bennett on the wing is exciting, imagine Bennett down the middle. The future is bright, people.

However, the kid still needs some work. He took a very questionable high sticking call in the offensive zone, and sent the Flames on the penalty kill. The scary first PP unit of the Canucks, composed of Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, and Radim Vrbata up front poured the pressure on early, but the Flames woke up and shut it down for the final minute. The Canucks only had one shot and the Flames generated two clearances during the PK.

The Flames fell into their usual first period funk, becoming progressively sloppier as the period went on. There was a lot of slipping and falling, botched zone entries, and icings aplenty. Thankfully, the Canucks couldn’t capitalize, and we remained scoreless.

Another narrative for the Flames in the playoffs was playoff experience. People questioned how the inexperienced Flames would perform in the playoffs, considering that nine out of 20 players who suited up tonight had zero NHL playoff experience. Michael Ferland experienced one such hiccup late in the period. After Derek Dorsett laid out Kris Russell with a big hit, Ferland went into NHL 15 mode, retaliating with a cross check and dropping the gloves. Dorsett ignored him, and Ferland looked foolish as he headed off for two minutes.

13 seconds ticked off of that minor before the clock expired. The Canucks led possession stats early in this game; 13-10 in shots, and 26-16 in corsi.

The Flames began the second trying to kill the remainder of the Ferland penalty, and did a damned good job of it. Despite Jim Hughson’s insistence that it’s hard to start a period with a powerplay (really Jim?), the Canucks never had a chance. The Flames shut them down from the get-go, denying them the zone, and creating three clearances on the PK without a single shot.

The Flames looked fired up after the good start. Michael Ferland, attempting to make up for his earlier mistake, knocked over Alexandre Burrows behind the Vancouver net. TJ Brodie nearly set Sam Bennett up for his first NHL goal, but he was denied by Eddie Lack. The story for the first two frames was certainly the goaltenders. Hiller and Lack shut everyone down, though it must be noted that Hiller was forced to make the crazier saves, mostly because the Flames were allowing high quality Vancouver chances.

The Flames took their third penalty of the game when Johnny Gaudreau flipped the puck over the glass midway through the second. Continuing their strong play, the PK iced the puck three times during the two minutes. They did allow the Canucks to get the cycle going later in the powerplay, but the two minutes passed without incident. It was also the Canucks’ first shot of the period, eleven minutes into the second frame.

The good times did not last long however. Bo Horvat took advantage of some tired and weak defending by the Flames, and pushed his way to the front of the net to pot home his first NHL playoff goal. 1-0 Vancouver.

Calgary got a chance to equalize shortly after, when Chris Higgins tripped up TJ Brodie. The powerplay did good, racking up some good scoring chances. They also did bad, allowing the Canucks to do the same. Burrows nearly scored on a two-on-one, and then as the Flames were regrouping, they turned the puck over right to him. The Canucks are the 2nd best penalty killers for things like that.

The second ended without much else happening. The Flames roared back to life in the shot department, winning 10-4, but the Canucks still lead 17-16 in corsi, and 1-0 in goals.

Entering the third, you couldn’t help but feel that this was part of the script. Trailing in the third, the Flames would find some miraculous way to win the game. Initially, it didn’t look like it would happen. The Canucks came out and poured it on, peppering Jonas Hiller with shots. Maybe at least one team had heard the tale of the Calgary Third Periods.

Or maybe not. After the Canucks’ initial outburst, the Flames answered straight back with intense pressure. Penalty killer extraordinaire Matt Stajan forced Yannick Weber into coughing the puck up to Michael Ferland. A quick drop pass to David Jones, and the puck was in the back of the net. 1-1 tie.

And just like that, we had a game on our hands. The Flames piled on the pressure, and at one point, didn’t allow Vancouver to record a single corsi event for a four minute stretch. The Canucks began to get tired, and couldn’t do much but sit in their own defensive zone. Everything was coming up Calgary.

And eventually, they came through. In the dying embers of the period, the Flames hemmed the Canucks into their zone. Too tired to keep up with the play, they allowed the Flames to move the puck around with ease. Bennett provided the screen, and Dennis Wideman set up Kris Russell for the slapshot. 2-1 Calgary, with 30 seconds left.

What a way to return to the playoffs. The third period, once again, was (kind of) the Flames’. They didn’t lead in shots, with Vancouver holding the edge 13-10, but they did lead in corsi 22-18, and goals 2-0. The final possession stats were almost dead even, with shots being 30 apiece and corsi being 61-54 in favour of Vancouver. However, the Flames took the victory, and the 1-0 series lead; something that hasn’t happened since 2006.

Cheers

  • Sam Bennett was absolutely amazing tonight for a person playing in his second NHL game. He contributed in every way possible without recording a point. Just wait until next year.

  • Speaking of the future, Michael Ferland absolutely killed it tonight. He was pumped; seven hits, one assist, and 14:10 in ice time. He can certainly be a great bottom six player for the next few years

  • Jonas Hiller bailed out everyone’s ass again. These two teams are very close, and it could very well be goaltending that decides the series. The Flames need more of this if they’re thinking about the Cup.
  • David Jones had a great game, scoring the tying goal. He certainly works well with Stajan and Ferland, and I think that line will definitely become a pain in Vancouver's side for the series (unless Hartley were to randomly break them up).

  • To the Flames winning a playoff game against the Canucks. How sweet it is.

Jeers

  • Jim Hughson. No matter how hard you try, we know you love the Canucks. Please CBC/Sportsnet; send someone else.

  • It was a rare bad game for the first line. This season, they had been consistent throughout all three periods unlike the nine players below them. Tonight, they were not too good in the first two frames, only generating two shots between the three of them.

  • Joe Colborne has not stepped up his game from last year. His performance last year looked promising enough for him to be a competent third line this year, but it’s becoming less and less likely every day. He needed two first round centres to carry him tonight, and try they did. One sequence saw him and Backlund go in on a two-on-one. Backlund dished it to Colborne, who didn’t shoot, and instead gravitated towards the corner for some reason. I'd suggest swapping him with Josh Jooris on the fourth line, but then that would be an even bigger black hole than it already is.

  • Bob Hartley, we need to sit down and talk about Corey Potter. He’s not very good, we know that. You know that, that’s why you only gave him three minutes of ice time tonight (two of them coming in the first period). Thankfully, there’s someone better in the pressbox waiting for an opportunity named Tyler Wotherspoon. If you play him, you’ll be able to balance your minutes better and not have to play Dennis Wideman for 30 minutes. For reference, Duncan Keith played ten more minutes than Wideman in a game that went on for 30 minutes longer than the Flames game did. I know this is a results-driven league, but people seriously consider Hartley for the Jack Adams?

Out-of-Town Scoreboard:

On this first day of NHL playoffs, we only had four games. The Canadiens beat the Senators 4-3 in an exciting game. The Blackhawks channeled the power of the Flames, recovering from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Predators 4-3 in double overtime. The Islanders took down the Capitals 4-1, so be prepared to read some pipin' hot "Ovechkin is a choker" takes tomorrow.

Up next:

What comes after game one? Well, game two. It starts on Friday at 8PM MST. Make sure you join us in the gamethread!