With five games remaining, this was set to be the Flames' toughest, but ultimately, least relevant task. The games against the Edmonton Oilers and Arizona Coyotes are expected wins. The Los Angeles Kings and Winnipeg Jets are direct competition. But the Blues? The Blues have no impact on the Flames' playoff spot. They're also the superior team, as they have been all season long, and continued to prove in the season series finale.
The Calgary Flames definitely didn't get the start they wanted. For the third game in a row, Jonas Hiller - coincidentally starting his third game in a row - gave up the first goal. Against the Dallas Stars, it took him 40 seconds. He improved against the St. Louis Blues, waiting 1:16 into the game before conceding to a Jaden Schwartz shot he really needed to have.
Jonas Hiller’s last three starts and first goal allowed: 1. Second shot 2. First shot 3. First shot Not making it easy on the #Flames— Randy Sportak (@SUNRandySportak) April 3, 2015
While Hiller improved, his team seemed to have some issues. Joe Colborne took a sloppy tripping call against Patrik Berglund, and Brandon Bollig... was... Brandon Bollig.
Bollig boarded Barret Jackman from behind, hitting him right in the numbers, not to mention jumping up and utilizing his elbow on the play to make sure he checked as many bad boxes as he could all in one go. Jackman stayed down while Robert Bortuzzo jumped Bollig, and the two tussled over the Flame's moment of stupidity.
Bollig got five and a game, while Bortuzzo received two for instigating and a 10-minute misconduct for his troubles. The end result? Two minutes of four-on-four play, and then a three minute Blues powerplay: one that kicked in at the end of the first.
Speaking of the first, the Flames were outshot 14-6, and out-corsied 23-13.
Seventy-six seconds the first time, and 23 seconds the second. Mikael Backlund was carrying the puck when he lost an edge, giving it up to the Blues. The end result? A cross-crease pass from David Backes to Paul Stastny, quickly putting the Blues up 2-0. Thanks, Brandon!
The Flames were, at least, able to kill off the rest of the penalty, and it didn't take them long to draw back within one. Sean Monahan became Sean "30 goal scorer" Monahan after redirecting a feed from Jiri Hudler in the slot right past Jake Allen. Johnny Gaudreau, who had the initial zone entry, went and retrieved the puck for him. I love this line.
The Blues kicked it into overdrive after that, resulting in chance after chance and scrum after scrum surrounding Hiller. Hiller held strong, though, and boy, it'd be really nice if start-of-the-game Hiller could be as good as this one, y'know?
The Flames did get a powerplay after Backes went off for slashing, but the Blues did an exceptional job preventing the Flames from getting anything going, and the only thing of note was a Mason Raymond shot off the post.
The Flames were lucky to leave the period just down by one, as they were outshot by 18-4, and out-corsied 26-9 in the second alone.
In desperate need of the Calgary Third Periods to show up, they instead decided to give up a two-on-one to St. Louis, courtesy of an ill-advised Deryk Engelland pinch. TJ Brodie went back as Dmitrij Jaskin and Berglund went in on Hiller, but Jaskin's shot rang harmlessly - if a little heart stoppingly - off the post.
This was countered by wonderful bids by Gaudreau and then Hudler to try and tie the game, but Allen and the Blues defence somehow weren't having any of it.
Kevin Shattenkirk tripped up Raymond, giving the Flames their second powerplay of the game. They came close when Dennis Wideman came up the slot and waited, but Allen had his shot, and then Hudler's subsequent rebounds. Which was extremely rude - Hudler needs his 30th, too!
And even though that penalty was killed, he'd soon get another chance. Gaudreau was aggressive on the backcheck against Berglund, resulting in the Swede high sticking him. Gaudreau didn't bleed, so it was just a two minute advantage, and one the top line went right to town on, including a Monahan shot right off the post.
Alas, the best chance may have come after one of Kris Russell's own shots was blocked. The puck went right to Backes, who got to go in on Hiller all alone, only for Hiller to take it right from him.
Where was this Hiller at the start of the game?! Because with the penalty killed, the Blues went back to getting chances, and Hiller went back to keeping them out. It could only keep up for so long, though. This is what happens when you can never get the puck: the other team wears you down, and eventually, one of their tries goes in.
Russell failed to clear. Brodie was left watching Berglund go around him, and while he eventually caught up, nobody was at the other side of the net: right where Berglund passed it to Jori Lehtera, who potted the insurance goal, making it 3-1 for St. Louis.
Lehtera quickly returned the favour, sending the puck over to Berglund for the easy empty netter, sealing the 4-1 victory for the Blues. The Flames were outshot 11-8, and out-corsied 24-21 in their attempts to come back in the third.
Overall, they were outshot 43-18, and out-corsied 73-43. It wasn't a good look at any point.
Flame of the game
This one goes right to Sean Monahan. The sophomore scored his 30th of the season, joining a group of just 12 NHLers to have reached that plateau this year. He's also the youngest ever Flame to make that tally. That's... really, really good. And not only that, but he led the charge with 20:28 in ice time, and in a game in which the Flames were wildly out-possessed, he was the best guy to have out there. Twenty years old, and he's leading the team.
- Horrible gaffes that cost the Flames this one: Hiller's inability to stop the first puck he sees, Bollig's stupidity giving the Blues an extended powerplay, Backlund's falling down, and a tired Flames group hemmed within their own zone for far too long. Some of these players had the chance to redeem themselves. One of them... well...
- Bollig finished the game with 2:58 played. And what a valuable 2:58 it was, what with the one hit he threw that resulted in 20 penalty minutes against him and putting his team down a man when they were already down by a goal. Michael Ferland wasn't a better option why, exactly?
- Bollig needs to be done here. That was a stupid, dangerous hit that has no place in the game, but it's not just for that. He was a bad acquisition from the start, and Calgary needs to cut its losses ASAP. There isn't even any point to him: he's not a good player, and any physicality he offers can come just as easily from a superior player who costs less and might actually have a longer and more productive future in Calgary. Like. You know. Ferland. Who was available tonight.
- Also, Bollig should definitely be suspended for that. And not just because it's in the Flames' best interests. Because that hit was incredibly stupid, incredibly bad, has no place in the game, and the NHL needs to learn how to send actual messages to keep its players in line.
- Hiller redeemed himself after that horrible first goal against, but man, he's gotta stop doing that. This recent string of Hiller starts follows the string of five Karri Ramo just had. The last game Hiller started before then? A 4-0 loss to the Blues.
- Backlund, meanwhile, is the kind of player who will do just about anything to get the puck, strip the puck, hold on to the puck... If he is on the ice, he wants his team to have that puck, so his fall was incredibly unfortunate. There was, however, a great example of his tenacity in the first period, where his refusal to give up on it resulted in sustained offensive zone pressure for the Flames. They didn't score, but in a game where they didn't get many opportunities to, things like that are pretty crucial. That's the kind of player Backlund is: someone who will get you those opportunities.
- Wideman, Russell, and Brodie were the Flames' big three on defence yet again. A change up, though? David Schlemko finished with 16:42 played. Engelland with 15:57. (Rafa Diaz with 10:30, for some reason.) Diaz didn't see any of the ice in the game's final 10 minutes, while Engelland only got out there for one last shift after the empty netter. Are we seeing a change here? (Probably not. Hartley likes to change things up at the end of the game and go right back to square one for the start of the next.)
- I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Russell has set a new NHL record for shot blocks in a single season. The previous record was 273; he now has 274 with four games to go. So... congrats, I guess, Kris? It's hard to take this record seriously when the commentators are freaking out about not being sure if that shot block was the record breaker or if that one was. It was more silly than anything.
- Also, setting a record in shot blocks isn't a good thing. Blocking shots when you have to is a good thing, yes. Being put in a position where you block more shots than anyone else is bad. Do you love a team when they get wildly outshot? Because the answer is typically no. Yet where do you think shot blocks come from? Having so many of them is a sign you never have the puck. Again: not a good thing.
... the Flames never dressed Bollig for a game ever again. Ever. Ever, ever, ever. Stop it. He's bad at hockey. His mere presence cost his team tonight in the midst of a playoff race. He was sitting the last three games, and Ferland was looking so good out there with Drew Shore and Matt Stajan on the fourth line. Why'd he have to ruin it?
... Hiller figured out what exactly he's doing at the start of games? Just... seriously, he keeps putting up great performances, but only after he lets in an incredibly weak goal right at the start. It needs to stop. Ramo's right there if it doesn't.
... Engelland stopped being a top four defenceman, even with Mark Giordano's absence, for real? Haha just kidding that's never going to happen. We've had an entire month of it, what's four more games. In the midst of a playoff push. Sigh.
On to the next four, the first of which is in Edmonton. Saturday. April 4. 8:00 p.m. Hockey Night in Canada. The fight to both sweep the Oilers and keep the Flames' playoff hopes alive. It should be a good one - and should hopefully yield a much better result.