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EDMONTON, ALBERTA - AUGUST 04: Cam Talbot #39 of the Calgary Flames celebrates the 6-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets with teammate Sean Monahan #23 after Game Three of the Western Conference Qualification Round prior to the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on August 04, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta.
EDMONTON, ALBERTA – AUGUST 04: Connor Hellebuyck #37 of the Winnipeg Jets stops a shot as teammate Dmitry Kulikov #7 and Matthew Tkachuk #19 of the Calgary Flames hold position in front of the net in the first period in Game Three of the Western Conference Qualification Round prior to the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on August 04, 2020, in Edmonton, Alberta.
EDMONTON, ALBERTA – AUGUST 04: Nikolaj Ehlers #27 of the Winnipeg Jets gets the puck past Cam Talbot #39 of the Calgary Flames in the first period in Game Three of the Western Conference Qualification Round prior to the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on August 04, 2020, in Edmonton, Alberta.
The Calgary Flames are one win away from advancing to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But in this best-of-five series against the Winnipeg Jets, the qualifying round, never say never.
Even in the face of a pile of injuries — one or two every passing day, it seems, for the Jets as the tally now includes Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, and Matheiu Perreault — their opponent doesn’t seem to quit.
We’ll give the Flames this much, however. They were dominant Tuesday, a 6-2 victory in Game 3 that saw their powerplay break out for three markers to help them take a 2-1 series lead.
As a result, they can eliminate the Jets on Thursday with one more W (8:30 p.m. MT, Sportsnet West, Sportsnet 960 The Fan).
“I just think we had the mindset (Tuesday) that it was a must-win, that we had to get momentum back,” said Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk who netted his first goal of this playoff series. “It’s all about momentum and we had to get it back. And last year we didn’t get the momentum back. Now we have the momentum on our side going into Thursday. I liked the resilience in our team and we were way more physical (Tuesday) … all in all, it was just a better game.”
One important man advantage strike occurred 18 seconds after the Flames had been scored on by Nikolaj Ehlers to open the first period — for the third time in as many games. It was a big goal in so many ways as it set the tone for the Flames to continue to respond to various moments of potential unravelling.
Elias Lindholm expertly tipped an Erik Gustafsson pass, who had gone to great lengths to ensure the puck remained in play for the first powerplay unit. It came nine seconds into the man advantage.
It may not seem incredibly significant, yet it was a big improvement from Monday’s 3-2 loss which, too often, saw the Flames gliding about and waiting for the Jets to make mistakes.
Instead, they forced the issue. Their entire second period was the best example of that.
Mikael Backlund capitalized on the good work done by Andrew Mangiapane behind the net when the terrier-like forward pounced on a miscommunication between Neal Pionk and Connor Hellebuyck to make it 2-1 early in the middle frame.
Shortly after, Milan Lucic looked like he’d given the Flames a 3-1 lead but the goal had been recalled as Dillon Dube was completely in Hellebuyck’s crease and tied up with Cody Eakin.
Lucic, it appeared, didn’t see the replay as he was incensed by the call, throwing his stick accidentally as he screamed at the referee.
But all had been forgiven when Sean Monahan finally hit the scoresheet this series, another power play marker just over two minutes after Backlund’s goal.
This is where things got really interesting.
Eleven seconds after the ensuing face-off, Lucic was whistled for interference on Perreault. Again, the big man with all of the playoff experience was not happy and screamed at one of the referees: “You just want to see yourself on TV.”
That may have been true, but it proved costly as Winnipeg’s Andrew Copp responded nine seconds later.
The Flames remained committed to the task at hand when Tkachuk scored to pull ahead 4-2 before the second period was over.
“I think the best way to learn how to win at this time (of the year) is to go through it,” pointed out Tkachuk, referring to the Flames’ heavily criticized five-game collapse to the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the 2019 NHL playoffs. “I’ve had two quick exits and in my first two playoff series that I was a part of, we were 1-8. And last year, for example, we were on our high horse after Game 1. They got momentum from Game 2 and never gave it back to us.”
Which is what made Tuesday’s Game 3 so critical for this group.
“The momentum shifted after last game,” Tkachuk continued. “They came out with a big push and played really well and deserved to win. It was up to us to answer their push from last game and to get ourselves back into the series. It’s a short series. It seems like it’s flown by so far.
“We have a chance to close it out on Thursday and we’re going to prepare as much as we can to make sure that happens.”
Things went from bad to worse for the Jets in the injury department when Backlund nailed Jets defenceman Tucker Poolman in the face with a shot. Poolman had already committed to a block as Backlund tried to pull the puck around him, but instead it hit him directly in the right cheek resulted in a whole lot of blood on the ice. It took an entire starting lineup of Rogers Place ice crew to scrape off the surface during the TV timeout.
Good news though, Poolman was back out for the third period wearing a cage.
However, the Jets lost the services of forward Perreault who received the brunt of a Bennett check into the boards — also in the second period — and needed assistance off the ice.
Admirably, the Jets held on in the third, trying to stave off the inevitable.
But the Flames remained disciplined, unlike Tuesday’s game where they took seven penalties including five in the third period.
Lucic secured a three-goal lead with his powerplay strike while Johnny Gaudreau finished it off with an empty netter.
Meanwhile, Cam Talbot outplayed Vezina Trophy nominee Connor Hellebyuck and earned rave reviews for a 33-save performance. It was his second victory of the series following Saturday’s 4-1 win in Game 1.
“We knew they were going to have a push (Monday). I don’t know if we were fully ready for that,” noted Talbot. “We were still riding the high from Game 1, I think, and we just didn’t give them any push back. (Tuesday), we refocused. Our best players were our best players. Our powerplay got us some big goals, special teams played a part in every game so far. I have to give credit to the guys in front of me. I didn’t have to make a ton of big saves (Tuesday) but the guys in front of me played unbelievable gave me a chance to see the puck and cleared out those second chances.”
Let’s hold off on the celebrations, however.
Flames head coach Geoff Ward has seen this script before, where teams get ahead of themselves at this time of the year.
If they want to go as far as possible in this unprecedented playoffs, they have much more work to do.
“We’re not even thinking about (Game 4), to be honest with you … That’s a good team on the other side,” Ward warned. “We’re just thinking about getting ourselves prepared for the game. We know it’s going to be a hard game. They always are. But I think the biggest thing for us is I think we managed the game, at points, a little bit better today. I thought the last game we took some unnecessary penalties. We didn’t manage a few moments as well as we should have.
“So I thought our guys were a little bit smarter in some areas (Tuesday) and showed some resiliency. And what can you say about our goalie? He was outstanding again. When he needed to make a big save, and it seemed like he needed to make more of them tonight, he was there to do it. You need goaltending at this time of year to win, and he certainly today was formidable guy on our team.”
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