For the Calgary Flames to continue stoking the Battle of Alberta in the NHL playoffs, they need to take their game from good to great.
Down 3-1 to the Edmonton Oilers in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal, Calgary faces elimination Thursday at the Saddledome where the Flames went 25-9-7 during the regular season.
Calgary avoided elimination in the post-season’s first round with a Game 7 overtime win over the Dallas Stars.
“We’re going to need the same desperation we had in that Game 7 against Dallas,” Flames forward Milan Lucic said Wednesday at the Saddledome.
“What I said before that game is you need big plays from big-time players, so that’s what we’re going to need tomorrow.”
The Flames played their best game of the conference semifinal in Tuesday’s 5-3 loss in Game 4 at Rogers Place. Calgary battled back from a three-goal deficit after one period to tie it in the second.
Holding Oilers captain Connor McDavid to two assists was Calgary’s most effective containment of the NHL’s leading scorer in the series.
"In order to win three games you got to win one game. You have to start off by winning one game."— y - Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) May 25, 2022
Milan Lucic on the mindset heading into Game 5 tomorrow night. pic.twitter.com/fFTtjnRUb1
“It was our best game, but it still wasn’t good enough,” Lucic said. “Whether it’s doing two things better or give 10 per cent more, or whatever you’ve got to do, it’s what we’ve got to do.”
The veteran of 135 NHL playoff games took the “backs against the wall” cliché the distance adding “in the corner, up against the ropes.”
“We’ve been a good home team all year long,” Lucic said. “We rely on our fans coming and cheering us on and having our back and going from there.
“It’s up to us to see what we’re made of and go out there and play our game for 60-plus minutes, if that’s what it takes to give ourselves a chance to stay alive.”
To have a chance at advancing to the third round for the first time in 18 years, the Flames must continue to limit McDavid - as much as that’s possible - while cleaning up defensive breakdowns in their own end.
Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom and 40-year-old counterpart Mike Smith have been both brilliant and faulty in this series with show-stopping saves and soft goals.
Markstrom misplaying a puck behind the net for an Edmonton goal seconds after puck drop and Smith getting beat by a cleared puck from 132 feet away for the Flames to tie it in Game 4 adds to the suspense of which goalie will be sharper Thursday.
Calgary’s playoff fortunes rely heavily on Markstrom, but Flames head coach Darryl Sutter insists McDavid and Markstrom aren’t the ultimate authorities on the series’ outcome.
“That’s all anyone else had talked about. They’ve either talked about Jacob Markstrom or Connor McDavid. That’s all they’ve talked about,” Sutter said. “In the end, that’s not what the difference in games is.
“We’ll have to improve some things.”
Over half of Calgary’s 73 shots either missed the net or were blocked Tuesday. Sutter is fine with the shot output, but says creating and finishing a few more quality chances is in order.
Since Calgary’s 9-6 win in a wild Game 1, the Flames have been outscored 14-7. They’ve mustered two power-play goals on a dozen chances over the last three games.
Sutter pointed out earlier in the series that Edmonton’s blue-line — led by Duncan Keith, Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie — boasts more playoff seasoning than the Flames.
“The big difference in the two defences is the Oilers have twice as much experience on the back end as us in terms of playoffs,” Sutter said last week ahead of Game 2.
“It’s like 350 to 170 (games) or something like that, so it’s a big difference. We’re getting experience as we go, whereas they’ve got it”.
Without top shutdown defenceman Chris Tanev for the first three games of the series, the Flames were disjointed in their own end.
Tanev’s return Tuesday, albeit labouring with what appears to be a right shoulder injury, was a stabilizing influence.
“Even-strength minutes, he was very effective,” Sutter said. “Edmonton’s defence is an experienced defence. When we’re playing four younger defencemen, those guys need a little bit of a security blanket and Chris Tanev is that for sure.
“It’s not just on the ice. That’s in the locker room.”
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press