They knew it was coming. They knew what the Calgary Flames were made of. Every team in the NHL knows what the Flames are made of. Everyone knows they never say die — not ever.
And once again, Boston learned the hard way that the Flames don’t give up until the final horn sounds.
The Bruins seized their only lead of the game with about one minute remaining in regulation, but with 1.2 seconds left on the clock, Calgary tallied the tying goal and eventually won in overtime on Friday to send the Bruins packing with just a single point.
“That’s not our hockey,” said goaltender Tuukka Rask, who entered the game 96 seconds into the second period to replace Jonas Gustavsson. “It’s fun to watch. That’s happened a couple times this year, I think; it’s fun to watch, but a lot of times, when we play that way, we’re not going to win the game. So we’re going to have to be better at that.
“Just disappointed that we had the win, but then they get a last-second goal like that. Should have never happened.”
The Flames were bound to be a challenge for the Bruins. The Bruins knew this. They knew they would have to thwart Calgary’s speed, its offense, its young superstars such as Johnny Gaudreau.
And bright and early, the Bruins were tested when a turnover at the defensive blueline led to a perfect chance for Gaudreau. David Jones picked Zdeno Chara’s pocket and fed Gaudreau on the right side of the crease, and Gaudreau beat Gustavsson cleanly just 33 seconds into the game.
With about four minutes remaining in the period, Flames captain Mark Giordano extended Calgary’s lead to 2-0 with a wrister from the left circle that eluded Gustavsson shortside.
“We gave up a couple of bad goals there,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “I didn’t think our game was that bad at that point — we were able to get ourselves back into it — but again, we kill ourselves with our own mistakes. Simple as that.”
Boston didn’t go into the intermission empty-handed. A solid shift by David Krejci’s line produced a prime chance for Chara, whose shot from the left circle was deflected directly in front by Matt Beleskey.
The goal marked Beleskey’s first since Oct. 31 against Tampa Bay.
“It was nice to get a bounce — off your shin pad and in,” Beleskey said. “Sometimes, that’s what it takes. So I was happy to be able to get that one tonight.”
Then, the start of the second period prompted two of the wildest minutes of Boston’s season thus far.
The Bruins wasted no time tying the game at 2, as Brad Marchand notched the equalizer 96 seconds into the frame with a blazing snipe that beat Karri Ramo gloveside.
But as expected, back came the Flames. Twenty seconds after Marchand’s goal, Gaudreau restored Calgary’s lead, drawing Gustavsson out high before tucking the puck behind him for his second of the game.
That marked the end of Gustavsson’s night: He was pulled in favor of Rask after allowing three goals on 11 shots in just under 22 minutes.
“It’s never fun to go in there when you’re cold, so you just try to go in and give your team a chance to get back in the game,” Rask said. “I think at that point, we were in the game.”
Twenty-eight seconds after the Flames regained the lead, Chara pulled the Bruins even again with a wrister from the right circle that deflected off the post and in.
In the span of 46 seconds, the Bruins had tied the game, then went down by a goal, then tied it again.
“It was extremely entertaining — I think we all enjoy being in games like that,” Marchand said. “But those aren’t the kind of games that we normally play in, and we can’t continue to play in games like that. We’re not a run-and-gun type of team. We’ve got to battle out a little more down low. But it was definitely a very exciting game tonight.”
Most of the game wasn’t pretty by the Bruins’ standards. There was far too much back-and-forth action for Boston’s liking. The B’s entered this game intent on imposing their game — their structure — on the Flames, and instead, they went end to end for the majority of those 60 minutes.
“I think we’ve got to learn to play these teams — good offensive teams — a little tighter and not kind of play their game,” Beleskey said. “It was a pretty wide open game; not exactly the style we wanted, but we did get a point.”
Once again, in the third, there were chances — for both sides — but it wasn’t until there were about two minutes remaining that the excitement truly began.
First, the Bruins were whistled for a controversial delay of game penalty in which the puck landed in the Boston bench.
“It was in the players’ bench,” Julien said. “[The officials] said it went over the glass. I guess if it goes over the glass, and it lands in the players’ bench, it is a penalty.”
Midway through the ensuing penalty kill, Marchand picked off the puck in the neutral zone and found himself headed for a shorthanded breakaway, but his stick was slashed out of his hands by Dougie Hamilton. Marchand was awarded a penalty shot, and he made good on it, beating Ramo five-hole to give the Bruins their first lead of the game with just over a minute remaining in regulation.
“We did definitely battle back,” Marchand said. “We had a much better game after they scored that second [goal], and that’s what we want to do. We want to make sure that we continue to know that it doesn’t matter what the score is; we can always come back, we can always be better, and continue to improve on our game.”
For the next 50 seconds or so, the Flames pulled Ramo for a 6-on-4. They pressed. They showed why they have become notorious for their late-game pushes, why they have become infamous for refusing to let up — not with 60 seconds left on the clock, and not with one second left on the clock.
Or with 1.2 seconds left on the clock. That was when Jiri Hudler notched the equalizer.
“Their D-man had the puck at the half wall, and at that point, his options should be shoot, or put it back in the point, and not cross-ice pass it,” Rask said. “So got a cross-ice pass, another try to cross-ice pass, hits [Dennis Seidenberg] in the shin pad, I save it, and then a yard sale in front of the net. And their guy’s wide open.”
And thus, with 1.2 seconds left, it was a tie game once again.
Rask was strong in overtime, but three minutes and 20 seconds in, a costly turnover at the defensive blueline gave Gaudreau yet another golden opportunity, and for the third time, he capitalized on it, sending the Bruins on their way with just a single point.
“Lately — I know we’ve talked about it this morning — they tend to come back late in the game, and they did that again tonight,” Marchand said. “You’ve got to give them credit. They have a good team over there, and they’re playing pretty good hockey, so we can’t take them lightly, and it’s an unfortunate turn of events at the end of the game.”
For the second straight game, the Bruins were sucked into the kind of run-and-gun game that is the antithesis of the way they like to play. They were unable to control the pace, and although they had just as many odd-man rushes and picture-perfect chances as the Flames, they weren’t able to impose Bruins-style hockey on Calgary.
They weren’t able to play to their own strengths, and a chance-for-chance style is certainly not their strength.
“It’s something that I don’t think we want to do — be trading chances like that — but again, sometimes, you have to do that when you see that the other team is doing kind of a lot of odd-man rushes,” Chara said. “That creates openings for you to do the same thing. So [it was] a game with a lot of chances; obviously, it came down to the last few seconds, and they were able to score. Broken play, broken stick, and it went in our net.”
And yet, as the Bruins head to Vancouver for the final leg of this back-to-back, they know they have the opportunity to take four of six points from a difficult three-game road trip out West.
That is all they can focus on. They can’t focus on what could have been in Calgary. They must focus on what lies ahead.
“It was a pretty high-paced game, and it’s tough — with overtime, 3-on-3, once it gets there, it’s pretty tough,” Beleskey said. “One little mistake, and they go down and score.
“We got two points so far; we have a chance to get four of six tomorrow, so we’ve got to get ready to go.”