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MacKinnon scores overtime winner to even best-of-seven series at one game apiece

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick /

Playoff hockey is often a lesson in patience.

Even if it takes all night.

The Flames battled back from a one-goal deficit to take a 2-1 lead late in the third, lost it, then set up what looked to be the winning play in sudden-death overtime, only to be stuffed with a big-time save.

It was the perfect play. The one they were waiting for.

But without the happy ending.

Michael Frolik was the recipient of incredible centering feed from Mathew Tkachuk and came within a whisker of striking the twine, but Colorado Avalanche goaltender Phillip Grubauer made a sensational slot save to not only keep his team alive, but send the play back the other way.

Nathan MacKinnon took advantage, scooping it up an carrying it down the left side with speed and fired a laser beam over Mike Smith's left shoulder to give the visitors a 3-2 win and even the best-of-seven series 1-1.

"It's a learning experience, for sure," said Sam Bennett, who had a terrific night for the locals, finishing with two assists and four hits in 15:37 of ice time. "No one's happy with the way we played in the first couple periods. (Mike Smith) bailed us out too many times to count. He's been playing great and we've got to do a better job in front of him and play Game 3 with a lot more urgency.

"I think they were more physical; they were faster. We have a fast team, we have a physical team, but we didn't really show it in the first. We can do a lot better job of that.

"We're fine. We're not hitting the panic button or anything. We're a good team, we all believe in each other. It's just a matter of getting that start and being more prepared."







For the Flames, this one would have gone south if not for a moment in the second that kept them alive and spurred a thrilling comeback.

There were six blocks in all. Four off the body and two others off sticks, one completely severed at the mid-point, with the other - and only barely - hanging on by a thin, carbon thread thanks to the pitiless battles in the trenches.

It was a full two minutes of the warriors putting on a show in the bend-but-don't-break fashion they've made a career of.

The result: One game-changing penalty-kill to keep them alive.

The Avalanche were already up 1-0 in the game.

Coulda been two.

But having survived the shooting gallery and earning a powerplay chance of their own, Rasmus Andersson evened the score with his first-career playoff goal a short while later.

Sean Monahan gave the Flames a 2-1 lead with 7:33 to play, capitalizing on a broken play in the slot and chopping a shot upstairs, over the glove of Grubauer. But the Avalanche got it back with the goalie pulled and evened the score less than five minutes later.


Video: COL@CGY, Gm2: Monahan swats in go-ahead goal


J.T. Compher was credited with the goal as he banged away at the loose puck in tight, finding a hole and sending the game to overtime.

"It's tough," said Travis Hamonic. "They tie it late on kind of a lucky bounce, to be honest. In overtime, it can going to go either way. …  It's going to happen. When you're playing these tight games, overtime games, you've got to be resilient and bounce back, and we've got the group and the leadership in here that's going to make sure we're ready to go in Denver next game.

"We've got to re-group. Short memory. That's all we can do."

Following up on a masterful, 26-save shutout in Game 1, Smith was the best player on the ice for either team in the early going, thrilling the masses with a menagerie of 10-bell stops, including a massive, short-handed breakaway stop on Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog.

The 'SmiTY! SmiTY!' chants were out in full force from that point forward, and the first of at least three standing ovations broke out from the jazzed-up crowd. The chants fired up again in the third, the 19,000-plus saluting their 'tender for another brilliant breakaway save on Landeskog.

"It was a close game," the goalie said. "Game of inches, game of mistakes and at the end there, they get the win.

"We battled right to the end, but obviously we didn't get the result that we wanted to. If anyone thought were going to sweep this team, they've got another thing coming.

"It's going to be a long series and you've got to prepare yourself for that."


Video: COL@CGY, Gm2: Smith denies Landeskog on breakaway


The first had plenty of edge and as James Neal said earlier in the day - "nastiness" - to it, with seemingly every whistle causing a riot with all 10 skaters getting their jabs in.

While the animosity may have slowed to a steadier pace early in the middle frame, the offence came to life. But it was the Avalanche who cashed in, finally hitting pay-dirt on the third odd-man, short-handed rush of the front half.

Matt Nieto skated in on a clear-cut break, gunning glove-side on Smith to score Colorado's first goal of the series.


Video: COL@CGY, Gm2: Bennett's no-look pass finds Andersson 



The Flames evened things up with a powerplay goal at 12:26, earning the opportunity by out-working the Avalanche at the tail end of the Avs' ill-fated PP, bodies fallen every which way and spread across the ice as all nine tried to catch their breath.

The goal was a beauty, with Sam Bennett delivering a beautiful, no-look spin-around pass on the backhand, and Andersson buried it from the bottom of the far circle.

"They seemed hungrier than us, like they wanted it more than us," Bennett said. "We're definitely going to learn from that. We can't sit back going into Game 3. We've got to play with the same urgency that they played with and I think we definitely learned a lesson tonight."

Game 3 goes on Monday in Denver (8 p.m., TV: CBC/Sportsnet; Radio: Sportsnet 960 THE FAN).

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