SNAPSHOTS: Flames snap skid with hard-fought victory over Jets7 min read
They managed to bump the slump.
For the first time in two-and-a-half weeks, the Calgary Flames celebrated a victory Saturday, snapping out of a lengthy skid with a 3-2 triumph over the Winnipeg Jets at the Saddledome.
They’d previously dropped seven in a row.
“You gotta get points,” stressed Flames coach Darryl Sutter prior to Saturday’s contest. “I mean, you can be happy with your effort, but our focus now has to be to get back to .500 and push for a playoff spot again. That’s pretty clear.”
They’re back to .500 now.
And back in the win column.
At 10:45 p.m., as the final buzzer sounded, the sigh of relief might have seemed more like a howling wind across Calgary, the kind that shifts all the snow to one side of your lawn.
“I thought everybody was dialled in,” said Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom. “We earned the win today. This is how we have to play.”
Top centre Elias Lindholm and first-line fill-in Adam Ruzicka showed flashes of chemistry, combining on a pair of tallies against the Jets, while Trevor Lewis cashed a shortie late in the second.
Markstrom delivered 21 saves in the home crease, including one in particular that will drop your jaw.
“I’ve said it before … When you’re on a streak, winning or losing, you need your goalie to be a star,” Sutter praised post-game. “And he was a star.”
First star, in fact.
He had plenty of support, though. His buddies allowed only four shots on net during the final stanza, when their determination to end their slide was oh-so-evident.
“Obviously, it’s huge to win when you’re struggling,” said Chris Tanev, who returned to the lineup after a five-game absence due to injury. “And I think that’s definitely a third period we can build off. We definitely played the right way. Just how hard we played, made hard plays, won battles, kept their guys to the outside. And when they had shots, Marky made the save.”
Ruzicka scored an unlikely promotion from frequent scratch to first-liner when Jonathan Huberdeau was injured on the recent road-trip. The 23-year-old certainly seems determined to make the most of that audition alongside Lindholm and Tyler Toffoli.
“Tonight, he played a real good game and hopefully he can build off that,” Lindholm said of Ruzicka. “That’s the Adam we expect.”
Early in Saturday’s affair, Lindholm swiped an offensive-zone faceoff to his new left-winger, who quickly dished to Rasmus Andersson at the blue-line. Soon enough, Ruzicka had the puck on his stick again and he shovelled it toward the net, resulting in a re-direct by Lindholm on the door-step.
Shortly after the Jets equalized, Lindholm returned the favour, finding his temporary sidekick with a slick setup on a two-on-one rush. Ruzicka polished that off for his first goal of the season and sixth of his NHL career.
“Pretty easy to fit into that line, easy to play with those guys,” Ruzicka said with a shrug. “So just do my job, work hard and obviously the points are going to come.”
Calgary-raised blue-liner Josh Morrissey, a go-to guy for the Jets, made a superb pass as Pierre-Luc Dubois evened things up again during the middle frame, but the Flames restored the lead thanks to that shorthanded strike from Lewis. After a sweet saucer from his penalty-killing pal Mikael Backlund, the savvy veteran buried on a confident move to his backhand.
That turned out to snipe that would end the skid.
“You can talk about the effort and stuff like that, but we kept losing and losing and obviously it’s not good enough when you lose seven in a row,” Lindholm said. “Today, we wanted to put a good game out there. Obviously, there are things we can do better but we got the win and that’s all that matters.”
After Saturday’s morning skate, the always-honest Sutter offered up a blunt assessment of the two call-ups skating on the Flames’ third defence pairing.
“They’ve been on the ice for too many goals against,” Sutter said. “They’re good kids. They come in and play with energy and all that. But in the end, you’ve gotta win your shifts.”
A few hours later, Nick DeSimone and Dennis Gilbert weren’t on the ice at all.
Stuck spectating for the past five, Tanev was cleared for takeoff against the Jets. He was skating alongside Connor Mackey, who had been scratched for the past two dates and seems to be stuck in Sutter’s doghouse.
Tanev’s return should provide a big boost, although the 32-year-old was guilty of an uncharacteristic giveaway on Winnipeg’s first-period strike. Shortly after that gaffe, Neal Pionk’s shot glanced off the shaft of Mackey’s stick and wound up in the back of the net.
Asked post-game about how he was feeling, Tanev replied: “Better as the game went on. Definitely something to build on and move forward.”
Tanev has a reputation as a calming presence, so maybe he can help Mackey to rediscover his confidence and regain Sutter’s trust. The 26-year-old has struggled mightily so far this season and the Flames really need him to show he can be an every-nighter, at least until Michael Stone returns from an injury of his own.
“We’re still searching for the magic combinations,” Sutter said. “Tanny can play with anybody, so it’s about getting him back.”
AROUND THE BOARDS
The Flames are now 6-6-2, not bad when you consider they just emerged from an 0-5-2 funk. “It’s important to understand how hard it is to win,” Sutter said during his post-game presser. “The reason that we hadn’t won lately was we got soft at home. There were three games in a row where we had a lot of soft players. So you have to work your way out of it” … The hosts were perfect on the penalty-kill, including a stretch of 1:19 where they were down a pair of players. Tanev logged 3:25 of icetime while shorthanded, tops on the team … Markstrom did his best ferris-wheel impression during a first-period robbery of Mark Scheifele. You’ll see this gorgeous glove save on the season-end highlight shows. “That was pretty cool,” Tanev marvelled. “The stack the pads, that’s old-school Ron Hextall, maybe? I don’t know, definitely in those days. A huge save for us, and he made those all night” … Next on tap for the Flames is Monday’s meeting with the Los Angeles Kings, a slightly-earlier-than-usual start at the Saddledome (6:30 p.m. MT, Sportsnet/Sportsnet 960 The Fan). After that, they’ll pack their bags for a six-game getaway, their longest roadie of the season.
OFF THE GLASS
The Flames were hosting their annual Hockey Fights Cancer game Saturday, and it was extra special with assistant athletic therapist James Borrelli working on the home bench. The 35-year-old Borrelli, known around the locker-room as ‘J-Bo,’ was diagnosed in February with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He received chemotherapy treatments and then a bone marrow transplant and is now cancer-free. The crowd roared when his story was shared during a TV timeout … More terrific news: Sportsnet’s ace play-by-play man, Rick Ball, was back in the broadcast booth after recovering from a pulmonary embolism. He, too, was treated to a jumbotron salute and a loud applause … The Calgary Wranglers are rolling. The Flames’ farm-clubbers will be shooting for a fifth straight victory — and fan-favourite winger Matthew Phillips seeking his 100th career assist at the AHL level — in Sunday’s showdown with the Manitoba Moose.