Thursday April 16th, 2015

The Flames pulled off a wild 2-1 victory at Vancouver in Game 1 of the teams’ first round Stanley Cup Playoff series thanks to two third period goals, including a Kris Russell winner with 30 seconds remaining.

Here are three thoughts on Calgary’s win:

1. In true Flames’ style, a big third period won the game.

The Flames scored 99 third period goals this season, best in the NHL. On Wednesday, they scored twice in the final period to earn a comeback victory over the Canucks.

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After the Canucks took a 1-0 lead in the second despite being outshot 10-4 in the period, Calgary came out flying in the third.

Credit Calgary for an aggressive forecheck in the final period. But how the Flames managed to completely reverse momentum remains a mystery, though admittedly Calgary’s entire season is nothing short of astonishing.

Both teams had a number of quality chances late in the game, but the Flames were able to break through when David Jones scored 7:59 into the period. With overtime looking increasingly certain, the Flames took the lead with just :30 remaining on the clock when Russell scored the winner.

What was most striking about Calgary’s performance was how the team rebounded from a poor start. Even though shots were nearly even after the first period—the Canucks outshot the Flames 13-10—Vancouver was the dominant team of the opening phase of the game, particularly the first ten minutes. It felt like Vancouver’s veterans would be too much for the less experienced Flames. But as we should have already known, you can never count this Flames team out.

Heading into Game 2, Vancouver should be encouraged, as the Canucks generally played well. The Sedin twins created chances and Alex Burrows looked like a scoring threat whenever he was on the ice. So why couldn’t Vancouver pull off a win? That brings us to…

2. Jonas Hiller carried Calgary to victory.

Hiller was tremendous between the pipes for the Flames. He stood tall the entire game, failing to waver even during Vancouver’s initial barrage.

The Flames may be one of the younger teams in the NHL, but signing Hiller last offseason gave the team a veteran netminder with solid postseason experience from his seven seasons in Anaheim. Based on Wednesday’s performance, Hiller might be ready to reenact his incredible 2008-09 run, when he posted a .943 save percentage in 13 games with the Ducks.

Against the Canucks on Wednesday, Hiller tallied 29 saves, and the one goal he allowed came off an odd deflection. His presence and stellar play allowed the Flames to settle down after their uninspiring start. The Canucks had plenty of chances throughout the game, but Hiller was up to the task.

Hiller’s play is especially crucial because Calgary has struggled this season on the penalty kill, worst among Western Conference playoff teams at 80.6%. The Flames killed all three tonight, thanks in large part to their goalie.

Calgary’s victory was a brilliant team effort characterized by the grit and work rate that we’ve come to expect from this team. But the Flames would not have won this game without the first-rate play of Jonas Hiller.

3.  Even in defeat, Eddie Lack impressed in net.

One of the big questions for Vancouver entering the postseason was who would start in net. Citing Ryan Miller’s injury, Vancouver coach Willie Desjardins decided to start Lack in Game 1. Lack’s play in the team’s postseason opener only means that the goaltender question isn’t going away anytime soon, even as Miller’s health improves.

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Wednesday’s game was Lack’s first-ever NHL postseason appearance, but he looked like a veteran. The Flames failed to test him early, perhaps allowing the Swede to settle in to the postseason. But Lack was tremendously impressive, particularly considering that lack of experience: He finished with 28 saves on 30 shot attempts. He shut out the Flames for more than two periods.

Desjardins now has another decision to make. Should Lack get the call again in Game 2, or should he return to Miller despite the fact that the veteran has only played once since February 22, when he suffered his knee injury?

Don’t be surprised to see Lack start once again. Miller doesn’t have a great postseason history, including last season’s performance for the Blues (2.70 goals against average and .897 save percentage as the Blues were ousted in the first round by Chicago). Miller also gave up five goals to the Oilers on April 11, his only appearance since his injury.

Of course Canucks fans are far too familiar with goaltender controversies during the playoffs, as the Roberto Luongo/Cory Schneider saga isn’t too far in the rearview mirror. But considering Miller’s injury and Lack’s strong play in Game 1, there’s no real reason to make a change. While some panicked Canucks fans might be ready for a change, Eddie Lack was hardly the reason the Canucks lost on Wednesday.

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