And so it came to this: Game 6. Potentially the last time the Flames would play in Calgary all season. Coming off a very bad Game 5 loss, and having an impressively terrible start, you couldn't be too sure where this game was heading, as the Vancouver Canucks gripped the game by the throat early.
Fortunately, the Calgary Flames were sure to be the Calgary Flames.
The Flames - and more importantly, the Flames' top line - came out to a hell of a start. Jiri Hudler and Johnny Gaudreau were so close to scoring, but their goes were more of the post variety than in the net.
It was unfortunate they couldn't score right off the bat, because the Canucks did. Bo Horvat started it all, but it was Chris Higgins' shot, Jonas Hiller's rebound, and Brandon "who?" McMillan being in the right place at the right time to capitalize, giving the Canucks the early lead.
The Flames had the chance to get right back in it with their top line's newfound vigour and Alexander Edler high sticking David Jones, but the powerplay couldn't produce anything truly dangerous. The Canucks' penalty kill could, though. Primarily right when the powerplay ended, and the puck was already in the Flames' zone - and then in the Flames' net, courtesy of Jannik Hansen, for a last-second shorty.
Two goals on three shots, and after a hell of a Game 5 by Hiller, his night was already done. Bob Hartley put Karri Ramo in after just 7:32 minutes of play from the Flames' starter.
Things were in a tailspin, though. Sam Bennett high sticked Derek Dorsett, and after a very late whistle, was called for slashing Dan Hamhuis . Calgary didn't even have time to get it going on the penalty kill, as just 24 seconds in, Radim Vrbata was in perfect position to tip-in a cross ice pass from Daniel Sedin, giving the Canucks an early 3-0 lead.
The Flames' two goalies had managed to save all of one shot by that point.
Not even a minute after, and things were spiralling further and further out of control. Josh Jooris went off for interference against Higgins, and fortunately, a very tense two minutes were followed up with a successful kill.
And that was good, because, well.
Luca Sbisa turned the puck over in the neutral zone. Matt Stajan picked it up. He dished it to the most hated man in Vancouver, and:
Michael Ferland's first ever playoff goal couldn't have come at a more opportune time, stopping the bleeding with just under three minutes to go in the first. And boy, did the Flames need it: even though they were only outshot 7-5 and out-corsied 21-17, being down 3-0 was not fun.
Being down by just a goal is much better. Sean Monahan was very much into that:
That was just over a minute into the period. Not even a minute later, pure insanity was initiated as the Flames iced the puck four straight times. Bob Hartley called his timeout after the first icing, but the icing just... kept... happening. Deryk Engelland had a 3:22 shift, to give you an idea of how bad it was.
You'd think that with four straight icings and a beyond exhausted Engelland, it'd be easy pickings for Vancouver.
And you'd be right, if Johnny Hockey was a Vancouver Canuck.
He is not.
Calgary iced the puck again soon after, but haha, after that, who even cares?
Things calmed down after that, but it kinda got ruined when Sbisa - who is, uh, not super great at hockey - scored.
The Flames had the chance to draw even with a powerplay when Nick Bonino closed his hand on the puck in his own zone, but outside of a couple of chances by the top line, the Flames just couldn't get a handle on it, and ended up giving up chances once again. They left the period down just one goal, rather than two, outshooting the Canucks 11-9 but being out-corsied 24-18. Repeated icings... might have something to do with that.
The Canucks nearly increased their lead, but Henrik Sedin couldn't corral the puck in to bury the puck in a wide open net.
And good thing, too. McMillan went off for goalie interference, and after a powerplay that had been substantially less-than-great all night, the top line once again came through.
Gaudreau from the point to Monahan. Monahan in the slot to Hudler. Hudler behind the net to in front of the net, to shooting it just under an outstretched Ryan Miller's arm.
Tie game, 4-4, and the top line all with a goal each.
With time ticking down, and the game tied, things were pretty tense. It was essentially a next goal wins moment, and with the Sedins out there doing Sedin things, you couldn't be too sure what was going to happen.
Bob Hartley started the game with his third line.
The third line created havoc in the offensive zone, and a wildly bouncing puck found it onto the stick of none other than than the best player in the Dion Phaneuf trade: Matt Stajan.
That, friends, was Stajan's first ever playoff goal: and what a perfect time for it to come.
But it wasn't over yet; there was still just over four minutes to go, and you knew the Canucks weren't going to go quietly. It's just that, well, the Flames were all over the puck, even as their own end was swarmed. Nobody was taking any chances. TJ Brodie had the defensive play of his life against H. Sedin, and it ultimately led to... the top line.
The top line, who had done so little all series, and who had all scored a goal in an elimination game. When they got ahold of the puck with the empty net, it was inevitable. Gaudreau, to Monahan, to Hudler to clinch the playoffs; Gaudreau, to Monahan, to Hudler to clinch the second round with 29 seconds to go.
And then, just to pour maximum salt into the wound: Ferland, he who stole the series, started the comeback, and had a six game-long coming out party, with the second empty netter.
For the first time since 2004, the Flames made it out of the first round. After a season of dominating third periods, this third period came with the Flames outshooting the Canucks 13-6, out-corsiing them 20-13, and outscoring them 4-0. That'll do, Calgary Third Periods... That'll do.
Flame of the game
The top line came alive, and they were beyond incredible. But... come on, this guy has more than earned it. Matt Stajan. And everything he's gone through, both in the hockey world and especially in real life, he's more than earned it. He finally got a playoff goal, and he's now the first Flame to score a series winner since the Eliminator himself, assistant coach Martin Gelinas. He played 17:28, fifth most out of all Flames forwards. He initiated the comeback, getting an amazing assist on Ferland's first goal. And he picked up a second assist on the second empty netter.
We'll have more on him tomorrow, because honestly, what a guy.
- After being unable to get much going all series long - just seven points, none at even strength - the top line found its jam. Any (deserved) speculation of injury fell by the wayside, as Monahan and Hudler were on point, burying chances and controlling play. And that's to say nothing of the general overall force that is Johnny Hockey, who was beyond incredible. The kid who was too small to make the NHL played 21:30, the most out of all forwards, in an elimination game his team won.
- No, seriously: the top line was amazing, but something that really helped them? Hartley controlling the matchup. They barely saw any of the Sedins all night, and boy, did it pay off; although it should be noted they were pretty dominant against just about everyone they faced.
- Gaudreau is incredible defensively too, it should be mentioned. There will be more on this particular play tomorrow, but Gaudreau's ferocious backcheck in the second that ultimately led to a powerplay was a force of its own. Engelland and Hudler fell to the ice in an attempt to throw the Canucks off on a prime scoring chance and block it; Gaudreau stayed on his feet and got his stick on the puck to disrupt their passing and lead the rush back up the ice. That was brilliant. He's brilliant. He was taken in the fourth round.
- How about Ferland? Two playoff goals: one incredibly important, the second a little less so, but poetic nonetheless. He played 15:20 and was awesome. Welcome to the NHL; you're playing while the players of 22 others teams sit. Including the Canucks. And certain members of the Canucks who aren't even worth mentioning... because they're irrelevant.
- There's an unexpected hero in all this: Engelland's 3:22 shift, the result of four straight icing calls. Engelland is pretty much the last person you want on the ice in that situation, but the Flames not only somehow survived it, but scored right after it was all done. Still, playing 3:22 straight is pure insanity, even with the benefit of a single timeout. Engelland was responsible on some of the icings, but he gutted it out. Dude finished with 24:29 of ice time, nearly in line with the rest of the top four.
- Russell played 29:15, Brodie 28:47, and Wideman 25:57. Make no mistake about it, though: Brodie is the number one guy. That's why he was out there to defend the one goal lead-turned empty netter.
- Mark Giordano may be back if the Flames make it to the third round.
- No shifts for Tyler Wotherspoon in the third. David Schlemko's ice time plummeted, as he got only 8:16. Guess The Engelland Shift impressed Hartley.
- Mason Raymond only played 2:43 in the first and second periods before he and Bennett switched linemates for some reason for the third. Raymond only finished with 5:39 total, while Bennett 13:28, so it was definitely a little odd and possibly something to watch out for. Though you gotta think Bennett's back with Mikael Backlund for round two.
- I'd be remiss if I did not say this: I love Ramo, and this is why it's so great to have a steady backup you can have faith in, but Hiller is the better goalie and should absolutely start the second round, it being against his old team having nothing to do with it. Ramo played well, but don't forget the herculean performance Hiller put on in Game 5. Mishaps happen. Hiller should still be the starter, but it feels good having Ramo right there in case anything goes wrong.
... the Flames won a playoff series and moved on to the second round.
Wait, that happened.
... Stajan wasn't mistaken for a fourth liner?
That also finally happened, and it was good.
The Anaheim Ducks.