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Flames determined to get back to defence after Game 2 loss to Oilers


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CALGARY — This was entertaining, edge-of-your-seat stuff. Even with the late puck drop, it shouldn’t have been hard to stay awake until Friday’s final buzzer.

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Heck, it might have been worth the 31-year wait for another playoff edition of the Battle of Alberta.

“It was an exciting game,” agreed Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter. “If we had won it, I’d be really happy.”

That’s the trouble.

When you’re up against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, end-to-end and run-and-gun and all sorts of special-teams action is typically a recipe for disaster. From a Flames’ standpoint, this was too exciting.

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Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers takes a shot on goalie Jacob Markstrom of the Calgary Flames during the third period of action as the Calgary Flames lost to the visiting the Edmonton Oilers 5-3 in Game 2 of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Saddledome. Friday, May 20, 2022. Brendan Miller/Postmedia
Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers takes a shot on goalie Jacob Markstrom of the Calgary Flames during the third period of action as the Calgary Flames lost to the visiting the Edmonton Oilers 5-3 in Game 2 of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Saddledome. Friday, May 20, 2022. Brendan Miller/Postmedia Brendan Miller/Postmedia

That’s why this second-round series is now stalemated as the action shifts north on the QEII Highway. The Oilers beetled to a 5-3 victory in Friday’s Game 2 at the Saddledome, burying on a pair of third-period breakaways.

“We’re not going to have too much success if we’re trying to trade chances with them,” said Flames defenceman Noah Hanifin. “They’re an opportunistic team and they have some elite, high-end skill and can capitalize when they have chances. We have to limit that, for sure.”

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Lesson learned?

We’ll find out during Sunday’s Game 3 at Rogers Place in Edmonton (6 p.m. MT, Sportsnet/Sportsnet 960 The Fan).

It’s crucial to get back to the check-first brand that carried them this far. They know it.

“Since I’ve been here, we’ve done a really good job of playing our type of hockey,” said Flames winger Tyler Toffoli, who potted one power-play goal and had another waved off during Friday’s doozy. “I think the past two games, we haven’t really been playing to our foundation, and obviously it’s been getting away from us.”

On this night, they let a two-goal lead get away from them. In fact, the Oilers scored four unanswered to erase the early damage.

The Flames must have been licking their chops when they were awarded a power-play with 10 minutes remaining in an even-steven affair, but this wasn’t the sort of momentum swing they had in mind.

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Rasmus Andersson was handcuffed by a pass from Matthew Tkachuk, with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins managing to swat the puck away. That was a green light for Zach Hyman, who was off to the races and roofed a shot for the shortie.

Edmonton Oilers Zach Hyman scores on Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom in third-period action during Round two of the Western Conference finals at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Friday, May 20, 2022. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia
Edmonton Oilers Zach Hyman scores on Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom in third-period action during Round two of the Western Conference finals at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Friday, May 20, 2022. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

Just over two minutes later, Nikita Zadorov let a clearing attempt slide by him along the side-boards and could only chase as Leon Draisaitl cruised in all alone and grazed a shot off the inside of the post on Jacob Markstrom’s blocker-side.

“Individual skill-sets, for them, can win hockey games,” Sutter said. “That was the difference tonight.”

McDavid finished with a goal and assist Friday, a stat-line that doesn’t necessarily explain his massive impact as the Oilers evened up the series. Duncan Keith and Draisaitl posted three points apiece.

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Michael Stone and Brett Ritchie were the other marksmen for the Flames.

The locals jumped to an early lead thanks to contributions from a couple of depth dudes — defenceman Michael Stone and fourth-line forward Brett Ritchie — but McDavid started the comeback with an incredible individual effort. While holding off Andersson with his left arm, he made a one-handed pass to tee up Keith for a quick finish.

Elias Lindholm booked a spot on the highlight shows with a marvellous assist on a man-advantage marker early in the middle stanza. He accepted a pass at the edge of the blue paint before flipping a no-look feed to Toffoli for a no-doubter.

The Calgary Flames celebrate a goal from winger Tyler Toffoli of the Calgary Flames during the second period of action as the Calgary Flames host the Edmonton Oilers in Game 2 of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Saddledome. Friday, May 20, 2022. Brendan Miller/Postmedia
The Calgary Flames celebrate a goal from winger Tyler Toffoli of the Calgary Flames during the second period of action as the Calgary Flames host the Edmonton Oilers in Game 2 of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Saddledome. Friday, May 20, 2022. Brendan Miller/Postmedia Brendan Miller/Postmedia

The Oilers responded immediately. In fact, within about a minute of Toffoli’s tally, they’d had one disallowed and scored another that would stand. Ticked about being accused of goaltender interference on that wave-off, McDavid slipped his check and finished on a filthy deke to his forehand.

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With Stone serving a double-minor for high-sticking, Evan Bouchard evened things up with a top-shelf bomb.

That was Edmonton’s only power-play strike, but staying out of the sin-bin was a popular post-game topic.

“If you’re not playing five-on-five, that’s definitely to their team’s advantage,” Sutter said after these penalty-filled festivities.

The Flames allowed a grand total of 14 goals during a first-round scare from the Dallas Stars.

In two instalments of the Battle of Alberta, they’ve so far surrendered 11. They’re doing more lamp-lighting of their own, but you don’t want to engage in a score-a-thon when the best player in the world is wearing enemy colours. McDavid has six points in six periods in this Wild Rose Run-In.

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“From our standpoint, we like to be that boring team that wins,” said Flames centre Mikael Backlund after Friday’s morning skate. “We’re fine with that.”

Boring? This wasn’t that.

“We’re kind of leaving our foundation a bit and playing into their hands,” Hanifin groaned after the Game 2 loss. “We just have to tighten it up a bit.”

AROUND THE BOARDS

During the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs, there were only two gents who piled up 20-plus points — Tampa Bay Lightning teammates Nikita Kucherov (32) and Brayden Point (23). McDavid has 20 already, and this is the second round … The last NHL star to amass 20 points through the first nine post-season contests was Mario Lemieux back in 1992. Before that? Oilers legends Mark Messier (1988) and Wayne Gretzky (with regularity). “He’s the best player in the world, and he’s pushing himself,” Hyman said of McDavid. “I’ve said it before — when you’re the best, it’s easy to be comfortable because guys are chasing you. But it’s hard to keep pushing and keep challenging yourself. And he’s a guy who wants to win more than anybody. So you’re seeing him push himself, push our team and those are the results” … It wasn’t a first-shot special like Game 1, but the Flames weren’t waiting long Friday to put a puck behind old pal Mike Smith in the enemy crease. Stone showed some persistence as he wailed away from the point, having two blasts blocked before he managed to hammer a howitzer through traffic. By the time Smith spotted this low sizzler, it was too late. Stone has been quite a springtime storyline for the Flames. The seldom-used spare defenceman — he was healthy-scratched for 71 of 82 regular-season outings — has now notched two goals and four points and fired 20 shots on net in six playoff appearances … Smith, who heard plenty of Bronx cheers from the C of Red, deserves full marks for a 37-save performance. Markstrom stopped 35 at the opposite end. “I think Markstrom was really, really good for us,” Sutter said.

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OFF THE GLASS

There were three disallowed goals Friday — the Oilers feel they twice were robbed of a celebration, while the Flames were denied a coulda-been tying tally in the third because the refs had whistled the play before Toffoli pushed the puck across the goal-line during a scramble … With an assist of Stone’s snipe, Johnny Gaudreau extended his point streak to seven games, the longest post-season streak by any Flames skater since Al MacInnis enjoyed a 17-game tear as the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 1989 … Sutter on Hyman’s game-winning shortie: “They were sitting on that from last game. When we have one defenceman and four forwards out there, we gotta execute or else it’s going the other way. That’s what happened” … The Flames haven’t prevailed in Game 2 of a best-of-seven series since 2004. Bizarre. That’s 13 straight losses in this scenario … Calgary’s Chris Tanev missed a third straight game due to an undisclosed injury. Especially against McDavid and Draisaitl, the Flames really miss this steady shutdown sort … Here’s one for the trivia buffs — at 38, Keith became the oldest player in Oilers franchise history to pot a playoff goal. That record previously belonged to Jaroslav Pouzar.

wgilbertson@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/WesGilbertson

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