Hard to think of a better time for your special teams to shine than the post-season.
Prit' near impossible, really.
Especially in a suffocating best-of-five series.
The Flames cashed in during the second period Saturday night at Rogers Place in Edmonton with two powerplay goals courtesy of Johnny Gaudreau and Mikael Backlund and a shorthand tally from Tobias Rieder.
The result: a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets and a crucial 1-0 series lead.
The Flames outshot the Jets 31-17 in the contest, with Cam Talbot making 16 saves between the pipes.
Calgary came out fast and physical in the contest.
Those were two hallmarks they promised in this series.
Elias Lindholm had the best example early on, getting a two-for-one defencemen sandwich into the boards when he came in at full speed and hit Josh Morrissey into fellow blueliner Dylan DeMelo behind the Jets net, causing a three-man pile up.
An errant pass led to a Jets two-on-one with hard backchecking Calgary d-man Rasmus Andersson getting called for a trailing slash just 2:17 in that broke the stick of the ever-dangerous Patrik Laine.
The Calgary PK - which was ranked eighth in the regular season - stood tall, with Talbot making a pad save on a Laine one-timer, later getting some help from Derek Forbort with a block on the Jets Finnish sniper, who was set up in his office - a la Alexander Ovechkin - for both blasts.
The short-man unit would be busy in the period, killing off another two-minute minor and then a 41-second partial PP from a too-many-men call.
Just past the five-minute mark, Jets No.-1 centre Mark Scheifele skated the puck into the Calgary zone along the boards and dumped it in, spinning back to avoid both Matthew Tkachuk and Noah Hanifin who were closing in on him.
Scheifele went down and had to be helped to the dressing room in obvious pain and didn't return.
Tkachuk - who had been throwing his body around as expected all night on every shift - then dropped the mitts with Blake Wheeler just as the Calgary forward came onto the ice for a shift.
The two - who had exchanged words earlier - had a quick tilt, with Tkachuk landing a punch that knocked the Jets captain to the ice.
Milan Lucic had Calgary's first good chance and shot of the night, just losing the handle on the puck in front of Vezina Trophy finalist Connor Hellebuyck.
Andrew Mangiapane had a good look in tight to Hellebuyck's right but put the puck over the net, the Jets coming back down the ice with a shot that Talbot saved.
On the ensuing faceoff, Adam Lowry feed a backhand pass out from behind the net that Andrew Copp stepped into from the left faceoff circle, beating Talbot high on his glove side at the 8:51 mark.
The shots ended up 9-7 for the Flames after 20 minutes.
Calgary got a powerplay 2:38 into the second period when Tucker Poolman was called for interference on Lucic. The Flames were active with the extra man but couldn't beat Hellebuyck.
The Jets 'tender continued to stymy the Flames, making two big stops on Dillon Dube and one on Mangiapane later on the same shift.
Speedster Rieder drew another penalty when he hit the 'jets' and cut in around Nathan Beaulieu, who was whistled for a slash.
On an odd-man rush back up the ice, Calgary captain Mark Giordano had a great opportunity as he walked into the high slot but wasn't able to get it by Hellebuyck.
On their third PP of the game and second of the frame, it was Gaudreau finding paydirt at 7:06.
Lindholm stepped into a point blast from dead-centre inside the blueline that Hellebuyck stopped, Sean Monahan shovelling out the rebound in a scrum to Gaudreau, who had to settle a bouncing puck and go from his backhand to forehand to fire from a tight angle over Hellebuyck's glove as dove across the net.
Calgary led 11-3 in shots in the second at that point.
Rieder gave the Flames their first lead of the night 5:46 later with a short-handed breakaway marker, using that aforementioned speed to grab a puck in Calgary zone and get around Morrissey, and come full bore at Hellebuyck, going forehand-backhand up and over his glove.
Mangiapane added an empty-netter with 1:41 left in the third to seal the deal.
THEY SAID IT:
Gaudreau on the win:
"It's quick. It's a quick series. You can't start out flat-footed. I thought we did a great job tonight. We started out slow, but were great after that. I thought this was a perfect game for us to set up for the series. I'm just proud of the team."
"I remember looking up at the clock, maybe five, six minutes left in the period and we had one or two shots on goal. By the end of the period we were pretty close. I thought the second period was one of our most dominant periods in recent history, even going back to the end of the season. A lot of guys played hard, a lot of guys played physical, a lot of guys wore them down. I thought they did a good jump of coming out with a lot of jump in the third period."
Talbot on his night:
"You can't say enough how hard we played in our D zone tonight. I didn't have to make a ton of Grade-A saves tonight. We back-checked hard ... and took away a ton of their speed up in the middle of the ice. Credit to the guys tonight. I thought we played a heck of a game."
Head coach Geoff Ward on what he liked:
"Some things. Obviously our special teams came up really big for us. Got a couple goals on the powerplay and were fortunate enough to get a short-handed goal. Obviously that was a huge factor in the hockey game. That was a real big part of our game today for us."
"We know we've got two good goalies. For us, really what happened four months ago is four months in the past. We wanted to take a look at who was playing better coming out of camp, and we really felt that Cam's game was just a little more 'on.' It wasn't a huge discussion. It didn't take an awful lot of hours to make the decision, but in saying that - we've also made it very clear to David Rittich that he could be in at any point in the series. He's ready to go. We didn't hate his game. That's not to say he played poorly - he didn't. But Cam was just a little more tuned in throughout the body of work, so we made the decision to go with him."
The trios and D-pairings to start last night's game:
Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Elias Lindholm
Andrew Mangiapane - Mikael Backlund - Matthew Tkachuk
Milan Lucic - Sam Bennett - Dillon Dube
Zac Rinaldo - Derek Ryan - Tobias Rieder
Mark Giordano - TJ Brodie
Noah Hanifin - Rasmus Andersson
Derek Forbort - Erik Gustafsson
The Flames improved to 6-3-1-1 in their last 11 games against the Jets ... The Jets defeated the Flames 2-1 in overtime at the 2019 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic in Regina in October in their lone meeting of the regular season. They had two more meetings scheduled but both were scratched when COVID-19 forced the season to be paused ... The last time the Flames played a best-of-five series was way back in 1986 against the Jets ... Two Calgary connections on the Jets: Morrissey was born and raised in Calgary, while Lowry grew up in Calgary after being born in St. Louis.
The Flames and Jets meet in Game 2 on Monday at Rogers Place in a noon-hour tilt at 12:30 p.m., TV: Sportsnet, Radio: Sportsnet 960 THE FAN. You can catch live pre- and post-game shows on Flames.com.