CALGARY, AB -- As his Calgary Flames readied to put their three-game win streak on the line, coach Glen Gulutzan wasn't shy in the morning about the importance he was placing on the performance against a formidable foe.
A "growth game", he called it.
A litmus test, of a sort.
Well, taken in, they passed the exam but lost the game anyway.
But off the tenacity and committed to the game plan displayed against the reigning President's Trophy-winners, they're not that far away, with a four-game road swing through Chicago and the California teams upcoming on the docket over the next week.
The Capitals were made to work for everything they got, eventually eking out a 3-1 victory at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
"In the third, we had a pretty good push but it wasn't good enough," said Mikael Backlund. "We've got to find a way to play way better at home and have better starts.
"It's our barn and have to show teams that when they come here it's not going to be an easy game.
"We've got to show them right away it's going to be a tough, long night for them."
Largely second best for a long stretch, the Flames made a determined push in the third against a Capitals' crew that had played, and won, Saturday night out on the west coast against the Vancouver Canucks.
After generating only 14 shots through 40 minutes, the Flames rallied, testing Washington goaltender Braden Holtby on numerous occasions.
Their best chances fell to ex-Cap Troy Brouwer early in the period and Backlund, whose high backhander through a tangle of bodies was blocked and held by Holtby on his chest.
But it was not to be, Marcus Johansson finding an empty Flames net for the clincher in the game's final minute.
"It wasn't the start we were looking for and I thought we were not as dialed in as we needed to be," Flames coach Glen Gulutzan said. "We did a couple things wrong and usually when you do a couple things wrong, something bad happens.
"We played a really good hockey club, I think they're real solid … they had a lead and they played with it for nearly sixty minutes."
Video: WSH@CGY: Elliott turns away Ovechkin's one-timer
In a losing cause, the Flames received another solid performance from goaltender Brian Elliott. The Flames netminder turned aside 26 shots and only allowed two strikes from the high-powered Washington arsenal.
"I'm just trying to stop the puck," Elliott said. "If you show me a good goalie I'll show you a good team defence. The guys have been playing great in front of me and allowing me to see the shots and that's what it comes down to."
Although hardly under siege, Elliott's sharpness kept the Flames close through a nine-shot Washington second.
The Flames backstop was especially alert during a two-minute tripping minor to centre Matt Stajan, producing a fine save off Alex Ovechkin and then flagging down a snapshot through traffic off the stick of Washington D-man John Carlson.
Calgary's 27th-ranked powerplay was far less threatening on two opportunities.
"We want to score goals and create momentum for our team," Backlund said of the Calgary powerplay. "The biggest thing is to create momentum, you can't just kill our momentum when we get powerplays.
"It's got to give us some energy and today it didn't. Today it took us down a little bit."
Fittingly, the Backland-Michael Frolik-Matthew Tkachuk triumvirate would be the one to pull the Flames back into the hunt, as it had easily been the home side's most dangerous.
Ahead 2-0 in the first period, and the Caps in search of more, Backlund, sliding down the right boards, had ample time to pick his spot and from just a stride beyond the face-off dot snapped the puck between Holtby's right arm and body at 13:44.
Video: WSH@CGY: Backlund beats Holtby with wicked wrister
The evening could scarcely have begun in less auspicious fashion for Calgary, Washington cashing in on its second shot, at 2:02. With the Flame defence pairing of Dennis Wideman and Mark Giordano caught in one corner, the Caps' Jay Beagle emerged from the other side, flinging a pass through the slot for right winger Brett Connelly to convert.
A sizeable portion of Gulutzan's pre-game focus had centred around discipline and eliminating non-essential penalties.
So Deryk Engelland banished for high sticking at 6:39 and already down a goal wasn't likely to lighten his mood any. And it only got, Marcus Johansson establishing squatter's rights at the tip of blue paint to nimbly re-direct a crisp Ovechkin pass behind Elliott only 35 seconds following Engelland's incarceration.
UP NEXT: The Flames hit the road to face the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday (6:30 p.m. MT; Sportstnet Flames).