We know what’s at stake. Every game’s important. It’s a new day tomorrow. You don’t ever want to go on a slide where you lose two in a row. You want to win every game. It’s a test for us now. - Matt Stajan
TORONTO, ON -- The Calgary Flames are in unchartered waters.
For the first time this season, the Flames have dropped back-to-back games in regulation in what will become the first real test of adversity Calgary this year.
“We know what’s at stake,” centre Matt Stajan said. “Every game’s important. It’s a new day tomorrow. You don’t ever want to go on a slide where you lose two in a row. You want to win every game. It’s a test for us now. Today was a test, too, and we fell short. No one’s satisfied. No one’s happy. We’re going to be ready for the next one.”
Three teams, the Nashville Predators, Anaheim Ducks and Detroit Red Wings are the only teams remaining yet to have lose consecutive games in regulation.
Calgary had been a part of that group until Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre.
“Every game is a situation where you have to respond,” coach Bob Hartley. “We have a mission -- to be a playoff team. We will hit some bumps on the road. It’s not if. Every team. There’s not a team out of 82 games that is smooth sailing all the way. It’s going to be a test for our team. I’m sure we’re going to respond with character.”
Peter Holland kickstarted consecutive losses for the Flames.
After kicking Jiri Hudler’s slap slot into the slot, Jonathan Bernier stared down Johnny Gaudreau’s follow-up deke with his right pad. Charging back up the ice, Joffrey Lupul shrugged off a check from Ladislav Smid before centering a pass to David Clarkson. Jonas Hiller denied the Flames forward, but couldn’t do the same to Holland, who put Toronto on the board 1-0 at 10:46.
Calgary outshot the Maple Leafs by a 13-8 margin in the first but couldn’t find the equalizer through 20 minutes.
After being outshot 13-4 in the second -- including a 12-1 run to start the period -- Calgary fell behind by another.
“We stopped skating,” Hartley said. “We stopped applying pressure on their d-man. They were moving the puck well. They had a great first pass and bang, they were out of their zone. That’s where I think that we’re at our best, when we apply pressure and for a reason we were a couple of steps behind and when we got there the pucks were gone.”
With David Jones in the penalty box for high sticking, James van Riemsdyk redirected Nazem Kadri’s slap pass through the slot by Hiller’s pad to put Toronto up 2-0 after 40 minutes.
The Flames, with an NHL-leading six wins when trailing after two periods heading into Tuesday’s contest, couldn’t find the handle on a seventh come-from-behind victory.
It wasn’t without a fight.
Just 3:48 into the third and with Calgary on the power play, Markus Granlund took a pass from Mark Giordano on the break in, drove to the net and beat Bernier with a shot by the blocker to cut the Maple Leafs lead to 2-1.
A glove save by Bernier off Kris Russell near the midway mark of the period and another with the pad of Curtis Glencross a shift later kept the one-goal cushion. Bernier followed it up by tossing out a quick right pad to deny Giordano before turning aside Paul Byron’s one-timer from the slot.
A final save off Granlund in the high slot with just 1:10 remaining paved the way for a pair of empty netters off the sticks of Phil Kessel with 39.6 seconds remaining and Mike Santorelli with just 3.9 left.
“Bernier came up with big saves at the right time,” Hartley said. “We knew what to expect because he’s been real hot in the last past games but we played I thought a decent first period, great first period, but on the road against a team that is playing real well you need a full 60 -minute effort.”
Bernier finished with 15 saves in the third and 32 overall.
It squashed any hope of a seventh victory when trailing after two periods.
“We can’t keep playing chasing it in the third,” Stajan said. “We had some bounces early in the season and it resulted in wins. It’s hard to keep that up throughout the year and we’ve got to make sure we’re starting off better and carrying that into the second.”
The consecutive losses leave Stajan and the Flames with one option.
“We regroup,” Stajan said. “We came out good today. You just kind of regroup. You don’t panic. We have a feisty group and we’re going to be ready in Buffalo but we’ve got to clean it up a bit, those few mistakes that lead to goals. More often than not when you only give up two goals you’re going to get a point or win a hockey game. We’ve got to find a way to score a few more goals.
“It’ll be a good test for us.”