It has been six years since the Saddledome has seen NHL playoff hockey. Sure, the Hitmen are around, and they're great, but it's not the same. This is the big stage, and Calgary - not to mention its terrifyingly solid red arena - has been conspicuously absent.
Tonight, that ended.
The Saddledome was roaring. It was hard to hear anything. Make no mistake about it, Calgary is a playoff city, and we're going to express it, and no, we won't stop.
So hey, Vancouver. What's up. Blue is calming. Red? Red is aggressive.
"Ferklund, or whatever his name is" - courtesy of the wordsmith Kevin Bieksa - is actually Michael Ferland, and he was built for the playoffs. Ferland immediately made his presence known, banging and crashing into pretty much every Canuck in sight, including a particularly brutal hit on Luca Sbisa.
Ferland is actually kind of terrifying, and I love him.
He's leapfrogged the fourth line, and rightfully so; but what of that fourth line, anyway? With Mason Raymond in for Markus Granlund, he took the dropped puck from TJ Brodie, and passed it to a wide open Brandon Bollig. And Bollig... sniped.
The lead was short lived, as not even three minutes later, a wild scramble around the Flames' net saw Jonas Hiller flailing and contorting, doing his damnedest to keep the puck out, until he just couldn't anymore. Shawn Matthias, he who the Canucks got for Roberto Luongo, was the beneficiary, tying the game.
But here's the thing: the Flames may be down a Mark Giordano, but they still have a TJ Brodie, and Brodie is very much the best defenceman in the entire series. Just watch him rush the puck up the ice to prove it. Or score his first playoff goal, courtesy of a cross-ice feed from David Schlemko.
He scored it from about the same angle as Bollig, but from the point rather than a prime scoring chance area. Speaking of Bollig, he may now be a playoff hero (he scored his second-ever playoff goal!), but he's still Bollig, and took an unnecessary cross checking penalty against Derek Dorsett beside the Flames net. Some very pretty passing by the Canucks briefly made the Vancouver powerplay look rather dangerous, but the Flames' penalty killers did a great job disrupting things, ending with a Kris Russell clear.
The Flames had a hell of a period, and looked thoroughly dominating, even if they were outshot 11-9 and corsi was even at 23 all... with Vancouver utilizing the help of a powerplay.
The Canucks were not awake to start the second, as Chris Tanev immediately tried to gift David Jones with a goal. Unfortunately - or fortunately? - for him Eddie Lack was good enough to ward him off.
That was just the start of things for the Flames, as they continued to dominate. Ferland was doing that thing where he demolishes everyone he comes into contact with, Johnny Gaudreau was back to doing Johnny Hockey things, and even the fourth line was getting in on the action.
Things were disrupted some when Tanev pushed Josh Jooris into Lack, and Jooris inexplicably got the only penalty for goaltender interference. No matter for the Flames, though, as they disrupted the powerplay with a number of rushes, including an excellent stroll for Brodie to kill some major time off the clock.
The questionable penalty was immediately followed up with a totally deserved one, as Mikael Backlund laid a bad hit on Dan Hamhuis, crushing him into the boards from behind. A scrum immediately broke out, but Backlund was the only one sent off, as the Canucks got set to go on the powerplay...
... Only to immediately give it up. Matt Stajan chased the puck into the Canucks' zone. When Alex Edler picked it up behind his net, Stajan caught him, and Edler reacted by taking an interference call. Enter nearly two minutes of four-on-four play, in which Johnny Hockey resumed doing Johnny Gaudreau things. The only problem was that nobody else was quite on his level, so he couldn't properly use his teammates to score.
The Canucks nearly took it back when Edler stepped back on the ice. They rushed up, but Jonas Hiller, who had been solid all night long, reacted perfectly to stop the puck from going in.
A Ferland rush in response resulted in Ferland down on the ice, and a scrum around Lack's net - of course.
More net scrums, this time around Hiller, saw Russell and Alex Burrows take dual roughing calls, bringing about more four-on-four play. (Yes, Gaudreau continued to hockey.) The open ice brought about good chances for both teams, but nobody was able to connect, and the score stayed at 2-1.
The Canucks, needing a goal more than the Flames, took the leads: 6-4 in shots, and 20-11 in corsi. Not that it mattered; it was the Flames' game to lose, and they definitely weren't going to let that happen.
The third period kicked off with a bang, as Sam Bennett scored his first NHL goal, putting the Flames up 3-1. Parked right in front of the net and refusing to move, solid positioning and excellent vision and hands allowed him to find and do just what he needed to do, and then he was immediately embraced by his teammates in a massive celebration.
The Flames soon after got their first real penalty of the game when Backlund, driving to the net from the corner, was steamrolled by Bieksa en route. Bieksa was appropriately called for charging.
It wasn't a great powerplay, but the end of it was fantastic, resulting in a lot of jump from Bennett, back-to-back Brodie and Jones chances, and a near goal by Ferland to follow it up. Yeah, Ferland's huge and he hits a lot, but hey, he's got some offensive capabilities to him, too.
Things were carrying on pretty smoothly - albeit far more impressively for the Flames - until Yannick Weber ran Hiller. This wasn't Tanev pushing Jooris into his goalie; this was Weber catching Hiller singlehandedly and Hiller staying down in a pretty scary moment.
Hiller was okay to continue, though, and the Flames were on their second real powerplay of the game. It didn't even take Hamhuis 30 seconds to put his team down again, this time by checking Bennett in the head.
Yeah, that's not going to fly.
A lengthy five-on-three saw the Flames' top line capitalize immediately. It took just eight seconds for Russell to find Gaudreau, Gaudreau to find Sean Monahan, and the Flames' lead to increase to 4-1.
Jannik Hansen forced the Flames to pay attention, as they apparently seemed to think the game was over, with a goal to pull the Canucks within two with just over two minutes to go.
And then everything went to hell, only this time, it wasn't the Flames' fault.
Burrows went after Gaudreau on a bad hit, and Russell immediately jumped in. The two danced at centre ice, with Gaudreau actually looking like he was going to get into it and help Russell until he realized just how furious things were about to get and wisely backed out. Burrows received a boarding penalty, as well as a game misconduct.
He also got a second penalty for instigating. As you may remember from the Deryk Engelland incident, an instigating penalty in the last five minutes of a game carries with it an automatic suspension. Engelland's penalty was rescinded, so he got to play in this game; we'll see just what happens to Burrows, but that was pretty disgusting.
Things weren't done there, as Bieksa finally had enough of Ferklund and outright jumped him.
"We've played against dumb-dumbs before, we know how to handle them. Regardless of what people talk about, we got the win" - Bieksa— Vancouver Canucks (@VanCanucks) April 18, 2015
Sure thing, Kevin. He and Ferland went off for fighting, while Joe Colborne took a game misconduct on the play.
Things closed out with a Sbisa-Engelland fight, and a 4-2 win for the Flames. Calgary once again proved the third period is its own, with the edge in shots at 14-8, and corsi, 23-22.
The playoffs are awesome.
Flame of the game
There are so many choices here. SO. MANY. CHOICES. Sam Bennett with his first NHL goal. Michael Ferland continuing to prove himself an absolute force. Mikael Backlund controlling the puck throughout. Johnny Gaudreau showing his offensive flair throughout again, even as he had to fight off the Canucks at every turn.
But TJ Brodie takes this one. He played massive minutes at 26:20, scoring a goal, recording an assist, blocking six shots, getting three takeaways, and just generally being a stabilizing, smart presence all along the while. Brodie was crucial throughout his big minutes. He's not necessarily flashy, but he's exactly what the Flames need, especially with such a thin blue line. Remember he's only 24 and still developing, but he's proving himself an excellent playoff performer already, and he's only going to get better.
- So... that was a finish to the game, eh? While you could point blame to the Flames for the end of game 2 - and Bob Hartley's $50,000 fine would agree - the chaos was entirely on Vancouver this time around. They completely unravelled, and some suspensions may be incoming. Hamhuis' head shot is going to get looked at, as is Burrows' instigator, and Bieksa initiating a fight with Ferland should be up there as well.
- There's... a lot. The playoffs are exciting, and this whole divisional rival format is paying off right now, at least.
- In a game with so much chaos, Bollig finished with a goal and just one penalty. Who would have predicted that?
- Ferland is massive, fast, and all over the place. He was built for the playoffs. He's never going back to the AHL; the kid's been through a lot to make the NHL, but he did it. It's only taken a few games for him to become a focal point of the series. He's a rookie. He's a big game player too, apparently, and has definitely set up shop in the hearts of this fanbase.
- He's also set up shop in the heads of the Canucks, it would seem. Dorsett tried to fight him, going so far as to drop the gloves, but Ferland just turned away. (Hey, didn't he get a penalty for the exact same situation reversed when that happened in game 1? What's up with that, then?) There's also the matter of Bieksa outright going after him.
- If Ferland ends up being one of those players everyone outside of his own fanbase hates, that's awesome. Because everyone else is seriously missing out.
- Gaudreau was incredible all game long. He had to fight so many things: his linemates being unable to keep up with him (Jiri Hudler especially, who fanned or outright missed on a number of golden setups), the Canucks targeting him, the refs letting the Canucks target him for the most part. And all the while he was a leader in ice time with 18:31 minutes, and bounced right back up at every turn.
- Hopefully Monahan's powerplay goal is what the top line needed to wake up again. Gaudreau is clearly amazing, but he can't quite do it all alone. If the Flames' top line comes to life in this series, the Canucks could find themselves in some very serious trouble.
- Monahan and Backlund as the numbers one and two centres on this team is awesome. Monahan only played about 50 seconds more. Throw Bennett in the mix for when he shifts over to down the middle, and the Flames are looking at some incredible centre depth. Don't let any of them ever get away.
- Speaking of Bennett, every time he took a big hit, he bounced right back, just like Gaudreau. Kid has no fear whatsoever. And as Radim Vrbata learned, he'll throw out some massive ones himself.
- Engelland is not necessarily... great, I guess. He easily loses his man, and can't connect his passes. Brodie looked better when paired with Schlemko than with him. He still played 20 minutes on the night, but Schlemko started making a real charge with 16:26 of his own. More minutes for him is probably going to lead to better results for the Flames, so let's keep doing that.
- Some unsung heroes: Raymond looked outstanding in his first game back from being a healthy scratch. Tyler Wotherspoon drew in, but didn't get to do much; still, the 5:09 he played - he didn't see any ice time in the third - is more than Corey Potter has gotten as of late. Keep him in, maybe steadily increase his minutes, and the Flames' backend might be able to balance itself out long enough for one of their injured parties to come back.
- Final note: loved Russell's response to Burrows' hit on Gaudreau. Loved it. It was immediate and furious. One of the beautiful things about playoff hockey is the hatred that builds up over a seven-game series, and in that moment of seeing his younger teammate get hit again and again and again, Russell had it in spades. That was awesome. This is such a good team. Their camaraderie per 60 is off the charts.
... the Canucks grew up? They didn't go after players with the game already over? They chilled on Gaudreau and accepted the fact they aren't going to hurt him? Same with Bennett, for that matter? What a world that could be. It'll be interesting to see who, if anybody, gets suspended, because that's definitely warranted for some parties here. Vancouver is losing it.
... the Flames only made minor changes? Like, a few of Engelland's mintues to Wotherspoon. And doing whatever it takes to get the rest of the top line to follow Gaudreau's lead. You gotta be happy with pretty much everything else. Even Bollig, as much of a non-factor he was outside of the first.
Game 4. Calgary. Tuesday. The chance to take a 3-1 series lead and leave the Canucks clinging for life. The C of Red showed up in full force tonight, and the Flames fed on it. Let's do that again. 8 p.m. puck drop, see you there, and out along the Red Mile.
Playoff hockey is officially back in Calgary, and it's awesome.