The Calgary Flames know the recipe they want to follow in their Western Conference second-round playoff series with the Edmonton Oilers.
When the Flames hit the road for Sunday’s Game 3 of the best-of-seven series that is tied 1-1, their plan is to skate in more five-on-five play instead of the special-teams battles seen in the first two games, especially in the Oilers’ 5-3 victory on Friday.
“A four-on-four goal, a five-on-four goal, a short-handed goal for them,” Calgary coach Darryl Sutter said. “If you’re not playing five-on-five, that’s definitely to their team’s advantage.”
The Flames have roared out of the gates in both games only to see multi-goal leads disappear in both outings. They blew a 6-2 lead in Game 1 before claiming a 9-6 victory, and then lost 2-0 and 3-1 leads en route to Friday’s loss.
Granted, Oilers superstar captain Connor McDavid has taken his game to a new stratosphere, but the Flames are hurting themselves with too many penalties and more.
The easy path is to blame goaltender Jacob Markstrom, who has posted a 4.24 goals-against average and .868 save percentage against the Oilers between regular-season and playoff games, but a 2.07 average and .927 save percentage against the rest of the league. Markstrom has not been at his best in the first two games, but his teammates have struggled, too.
“I think since I’ve been here, we’ve done a really good job of playing our type of hockey,” said trade-deadline acquisition Tyler Toffoli of the Flames. “The past two games, we haven’t been playing to our foundation and it’s been getting away from us and (we’re) giving up too many scoring chances.”
McDavid, especially, has been on the other side of those chances, and masterful at creating and converting them. With another goal and assist on Friday, he has collected six points in the series, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg of his achievements.
He became the fastest active player to reach 20 points in a single playoff year, reaching the mark in nine games — and the fastest since Mario Lemieux needed just eight games in 1992. McDavid, who has six goals and 14 assists, has posted five consecutive multi-point games and is only the second player in NHL history to record multi-point games in eight of nine outings to start the playoffs (the other being Darryl Sittler in 1977).
If that’s not enough, McDavid also leads the Oilers in hits this series with nine and is a key player when the game is on the line.
“What I saw was a leader, who when the game was on the line was prepared to be in a shooting lane,” Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft said of McDavid’s game. “When the goalie’s pulled and we’re killing a penalty, he was out there for a reason and he put his body on his line so that we would win. That type of self-sacrifice is what it takes to win come this time of year.”
In turn, the Oilers are confident they can upset the Flames in the series, proven by how they’ve overcome early deficits.
“It’s an emotional roller coaster,” said forward Zach Hyman, who scored the game-winning goal in Game 2. “You’ve got to try to stay off of it as much as you can and stay even-keeled because it’s hockey, and some nights bounces are going to go your way and some nights they’re not. We’ve had kind of a roller-coaster season where our backs have been against the wall, and our ability to push back has been second to none on any team I’ve been on.”
–Field Level Media