The Calgary Flames returned to the Vancouver Canucks' barn with the chance to close out the series. They got off to an excellent immediate start, and then decided to leave everything to a Swiss and a Swede. Let's see how that worked out. (Spoiler alert: it did not work out well.)
The Flames got the party started right away. Not even three minutes in, Matt Stajan hit Alexander Edler, forcing a turnover from right within the Canucks' own blueline. The puck went off his foot and up in the air, where David Jones quickly snagged it down and did his best Game 1 impression, giving the Flames the lead mighty quick.
Things nearly went form bad to worse for the Canucks when Ronalds Kenins very much high sticked TJ Brodie in the face. Brodie was just fine, though, and the powerplay had a number of good chances, but a little too much passing and Sean Monahan not being able to get a handle on the puck meant Vancouver was spared.
Sam Bennett, seeming a little overwhelmed by Yannick Weber, got in on the high sticking game, too. It was actually more like a cross check to the face, but it was bad and wrong either way.
And the penalty kill, just like every other part of the game, was saved by the incredible efforts of one Jonas Hiller. He was all over the puck, tracking it with expertise, jumping on it at every opportunity, holding strong as the Canucks scrummed around his net and refusing to let anything get past him. Not to mention reacting perfectly at every turn.
Good thing, too, as the Flames were outshot 17-8, and out-corsied 27-13 over the first. Thank you, based Jonas.
The Flames got off to a decent start in the second, courtesy of one Mikael Backlund stripping Edler of the puck. Unlike when Stajan did it, it did not result in any goals, but it did allow for his line to run roughshod all over the Canucks and Ryan Miller for quite some time before Vancouver managed to get it out.
That was about it for the Flames' tries on offence, as everything was thereafter Hiller. This included another penalty kill as a scrum formed around his net, with Michael Ferland, of course, involved. The referees warned against this, and true to their word, pulled just one guy out: Ferland, for roughing. The Flames killed it just fine, and Ferland welcomed himself back by slamming into Edler.
Edler was not having a super great night.
Until he was, thanks to a pinch that ultimately led to a perfect Nick Bonino shot, finally breaking Hiller's shutout bid after 27 saves.
There's only so much one guy can do, man. Especially when, over the course of the period, his team was outshot 17-8 once again, and out-corsied 24-17.
The period known as the Flames' did not begin that way, as a faceoff win for Henrik Sedin in the Flames' zone led to nice things for his brother. Daniel Sedin went right to the net, got behind Deryk Engelland (because of course he did), and slipped Hiller's rebound fivehole to give the Canucks their first lead, 2-1.
Seriously, somebody please help Hiller.
The pace really picked up once the Canucks got the lead, especially when Backlund singlehandedly took everything over trying to get his team back in it. (Backlund is actually the best.)
The Flames did get something of a break when Dan Hamhuis chipped the puck over the glass for a delay of game (although it did touch Bennett's stick along the way, so maybe shouldn't have been called). That was as much of a break as they got, because the ensuing powerplay was not particularly great. Needless to say, the Canucks killed it with ease. Actually, it's a good thing they didn't score shorthanded along the way.
That's what Johnny Gaudreau is for, though. He brought the puck in, and the Canucks did their damnedest to separate it from him, but all they could do was hook him as H. Sedin went off. With just under six minutes left, it was a crucial powerplay for the Flames, and... they did a very poor job. The Canucks had more shots on net than they did. So.
Hiller left the net with just over a minute to go, and rightfully so, Gaudreau and Backlund both ended up being the extra attackers, but the Flames just couldn't get a proper chance and fell, 2-1.
Vancouver forced a sixth game, and fully earned it. They outshot the Flames 9-5 in the third - when the Flames were down a goal! - although the Flames did manage to out-corsi them 20-15.
Overall, the Canucks outshot the Flames 43-21, and out-corsied them 66-50. Calgary did not have the look of a team on the verge of moving to the next round at all.
Flame of the game
There's no question: Jonas Hiller. Nobody else is even close to worthy (no, that's a lie, Mikael Backlund was incredible, too). Dude was 99% of the reason the Flames were even in the game, and he looked completely unstoppable until Bonino broke through. Hiller made 41 saves on 43 shots, put up with numerous frantic scrums around his net, and held strong at every turn. A perfect shot broke him, and poor defence broke him for the game winner. He can't be faulted on either.
Honestly, he can't be faulted for a single thing this series. Hiller is far and away the Flames' MVP right now. He plays like that again, the Flames are remotely competent offensively, and that could do it in Game 6.
- Yeah, Monahan's hurt. Either that, or he suddenly got less-than-great. Multiple times throughout the game the puck just outright died on his stick, including several gimme scoring chances. Gaudreau teed him up a number of times, only for Monahan to fail to get the shot off. Something's definitely not right. Backlund played more than him, and rightfully so: he was significantly better.
- Backlund and Gaudreau were, without a doubt, the Flames' best forwards. They played the most, too. Jiri Hudler, meanwhile, fell to just 14:23, the least out of everyone in the top six. He's not right, either.
- I don't think it's unfair to say Ferland should have received a number of charging calls this series. His hits are hard and thunderous, and he is constantly moving, but some have certainly approached questionable. That, plus getting pulled out of the scrum, and he's going to need to learn to keep his emotions in check and hit wisely. This probably can't continue.
- Skill trumps physicality. Ferland can play, but he was invisible in the third, without any real opportunity to throw hits as the Sedins went HAM instead. Love him, but I wonder if he's buying into his own hype as a pesky hitter, even though he's proven in junior and in the minors he can score. He needs to find that touch in the NHL, and it's probably not going to happen these playoffs, so in the meantime he needs to play smart and hit smart rather than hitting for the sake of it.
- Tyler Wotherspoon isn't playing much, but he is getting more minutes than Corey Potter did, and he's doing more with them, too. He came flying in for a prime scoring chance in Game 4, and was noticeable offensively for a few moments tonight. Keep him as the sixth defenceman until one of Rafa Diaz or Mark Giordano (!!) is ready to come back.
- The gap is starting to close. Wotherspoon played 6:33. Engelland didn't hit 20 minutes, only playing 17:23, while Schelmko pulled within range with 14:51. Engelland was also super bad on the game winner, so. He only had four shifts after that.
- Brodie is the Flames' number one defenceman, but playing on the second pairing. That's where we're at. It's unavoidable right now, and it's hurting.
- One moment all the Canuck fans I know sure seemed to appreciate: Mason Raymond going in on a breakaway all alone, only to... totally lose it right in front of the net and not even get a shot off. It could've been really helpful if he hadn't, well, done that. Canuck fans seemed nice and nostalgic, though.
... the lines got shuffled some? Look, something is clearly not right with two-thirds of the top line. Backlund and Bennett have been the Flames' best forwards all series. Gaudreau looks just fine. You want scoring, you're in garbage time and down a goal, put your three best guys together. Make it work. Because Backlund was all over the place, Bennett can keep up with him, and Gaudreau needs more help than what Monahan and Hudler can offer him at this time. Don't wait until the goalie is pulled to put them together.
... Schlemko got more time than Engelland? Just wondering if it's time we went there. Schlemko's probably never going to be an actual top four defenceman, but neither is Engelland.
Another elimination game, of course! The series isn't over, and it's going back to Calgary. All the Flames need is one win, and they get to move on.
What better place to do it than in their own barn? Saturday, April 25. 7:00 p.m. The Flames skaters need to take lessons from this game and build on them, because they were not even remotely up to snuff. That, and a repeat performance by Hiller, and things could be really, really great really, really soon.