The 2014-15 edition of the Calgary Flames has made an art of the comeback victory, and their 4-3 overtime victory Tuesday in Game 3 of their second-round series against Anaheim was one of their best art exhibits yet.
Indeed, it had a last-minute goal in the third period (courtesy of star rookie Johnny Gaudreau, who scored with 19.5 seconds remaining in regulation). It had big contributions from a number of players, including forwards Mikael Backlund (who scored the game-winner 4:24 into OT) and Joe Colborne (who scored his first career NHL playoff goal on a shorthanded play 4:17 into the second frame) and defenseman T.J. Brodie, who chipped in an assist and played a game-high 27:49. Most importantly, it took Calgary from a situation in which they would've been down 3-0 in the series to a Ducks team that was unbeaten in this post-season to a situation in which they now can make this a best-of-three series with a second straight win in Game 4 Friday.
The comeback victory was Calgary's third in this year's playoffs when trailing after two periods. They had 10 such wins during the regular season. And they appeared to come back prior to Gaudreau's goal when fellow first-year NHLer Sam Bennett looked as if he'd tied the game with 6:22 left in the third period; Bennett's wraparound shot went off Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen's pad, but the subsequent video review of the play couldn't conclusively demonstrate the puck fully crossed the goal line and the goal wasn't counted.
At the other end of the ice, Flames goalie Kari Ramo was far from perfect – he allowed three goals on just 19 shots in regulation – and in that sense, he was a perfect reflection of the team in front of him: Calgary lost a whopping 40 of 59 faceoffs in Game 3, and Anaheim had double the number of blocked shots (18 to nine) the host team did. But for the first time all series, the Flames didn't lose their sense of confidence at the first sign of trouble. Twice, the Ducks took the lead, but Calgary took it back. The Flames were the more controlled team (Anaheim had only two power plays, while the Flames had six) and Gaudreau's goal came with the Ducks on the penalty kill. In the third period, Calgary outshot Anaheim 11-3.
That's right, the Flames held Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and the rest of Anaheim's high-octane offense to only three shots in the third. That takes a concerted team effort, and one head coach Bob Hartley will likely reference every minute Calgary remains alive in the series. At least now, Flames players see evidence they can compete against the awesomely-talented Ducks. For the previous two games in Anaheim, there was no real evidence such a thing was possible.
Of course, it will still take a momumental effort by the Flames to get anywhere close to a Game 6, let alone their first Western Conference Final appearance in 11 years. They still have to win at least one game in Anaheim, and they haven't been able to do so in their past 21 attempts at Honda Center. And they still have to win Game 4 in Calgary, which you know the Ducks will be ready for after suffering their first loss in this Stanley Cup tournament.
But the Flames have taken everyone's expectations for them – at the start of the season, when few thought they'd even come close to sniffing a playoff spot; after star blueliner Mark Girordano was sidelined for the year with a torn biceps tendon – and chucked them into the nearest spittoon. They may have suffered a brutal reality check in the first two games of the second round, but Game 3 was a reality check of sorts for the Ducks.
Some teams need a mile of rope to move an inch, but the converse seems true with the Flames, who may yet make this a series to remember after starting it in a way Calgary fans would prefer to forget.