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Flames push forward without Gaudreau

In their first game without their star winger, the Flames put together a solid all-around effort in their 2-1 overtime win over the Coyotes

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH /

CALGARY, AB -- The Calgary Flames without Johnny Gaudreau?

Imagine the The Doors without Jim Morrison. The Faces without Rod Stewart. The Police without Sting.

Well, in the first gig minus its charismatic lead singer, Glen Gulutzan's boy band showed it can still deliver a pretty rockin' set.

"We're definitely going to miss him and what he generates,'' acknowledged goaltender Chad Johnson.

"But we can't be feeling sorry for ourselves. We've moved on from that. It's such a group effort to win hockey games in this league.

"The focus can be on one guy on the outside of things, I guess. But when you're on the ice, it takes five. You can't just have one person doing everything.

"We, as a group, have got to find ways to win hockey games."

Video: Johnson on a 2-1 win over the Coyotes

That they did Wednesday, coming from behind to subdue the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 in overtime.

The scoreline, quite frankly, flattered the Desert Dogs, able to mine a point only on a superb goaltending turn from Mike Smith.

Hours after Gaudreau, the Flames' leading scorer, underwent surgery on the finger busted by an Eric Staal slash 24 hours earlier in Saint Paul, MN, his teammates were undergoing the first instalment of Life Without Johnny.

And coping pretty well, all things considered.

"I thought for sure tonight that we deserved the two points,'' praised head coach Gulutzan. "Just looking at the chances between period and the way the game unfolded, I thought our guys played real hard.

"The first 10 minutes took a while to get going. Big back-to-backs for us, a long night. But once they got going, I thought they did a real good job."

Gaudreau, of course, is the one looked upon to deliver at the big moment, produce the theatrics for this team. 

Well, starring in the role of Johnny Gaudreau on Wednesday? Michael Frolik. Did a pretty fair impression, too.

Video: ARI@CGY: Frolik capitalizes off turnover for OT win

Early on in three-on-three overtime - a Gaudreau staple - Frolik dislodged the puck from Coyotes' right winger Brad Richardson along the boards, sailed down the left wing and cranked a shot past Smith to seal the deal.

The time: 0:49.

"It's a big loss, Johnny, for sure,'' Frolik concurred later. "But it's an opportunity for other guys to step up. We've got to do it. He's going to be out for a while.

"I had a few chances there but (Smith) made some great saves. In the end, we just wanted to stick with it. I saw the chance, and luckily the shot went in."

The goal that pumped belief into the home side came via freshman Matthew Tkachuk, at 6:40 of the third period. 

They'd been battering relentless away at Smith's door, and Tkachuk, on an odd, imaginative play, finally broke it down.

Sawing off an offensive draw against Ryan White, Flames' centre Michael Backlund tied up his opposite positional rival. Frolik got a touch of the puck, also running some interference, and Tkachuk, sliding in to retrieve and the puck just along the goal line fired a shot from an odd angle off Smith's noggin and into the net.

Video: ARI@CGY: Tkachuk scores from an impossible angle

"No, not a lot of room,'' said Tkachuk. "But just enough. I had to bank it off his head. I dunno …

"Just close your eyes and shoot.

"I think it's the first time we've run that all year, that little over-the-top play.

"It worked, though."

After a middling first period, only memorable for Smith's reflex glove stop off a Doug Hamilton shot that nicked Coyotes' left winger Lawson Crouse en route, the home side began to raise the ante, turn up the tempo.

Smith was equal to every assault upon his net, though leaving the Flames, and Frolik in particular, shaking their heads - and actually trailing 1-0 - heading into the second intermission.

Early on Backlund had spied the versatile Czech winger making a beeline to the blue paint and from the side of the net, slid a lovely pass into his path. But Smith, stretching out, got a pad on the shot as Frolik attempted to go long-side.

Later, an even more luminous bit of Smith larceny at the expense of Frolik, flashing the leather to snare a one-timer from the high slot.

The Flames also began to up the physical ante, epitomized by Micheal Ferland's thundering rub-out of Oliver Ekman-Larsson along the boards, a foot or so inside the Calgary blueline.

The aftershock could be heard all the way in Okotoks.

Very much against the run of things, the Coyotes cashed in, via centre Tobias Reider, on a rare foray at Johnson.

Understanding that the absence of No. 13 makes the margin for error much smaller, the Flames continued to persevere.

"We're really been hammering that home here, finding ways for long term success,'' said Gulutzan. "Playing 50-50 hockey is what we're talking about the most here.

"Not everything is going to be a play. When it's 60-40, make your play. When it's 50-50 be content with getting down and playing a grind game and working things low to high. Just simple stuff.

"We don't want to add too many layers to the cake. Just keep it simple and play some good 50-50 hockey."

Understanding the way ahead only gets harder, and quickly - Chicago here Friday and then a six-games-in-nine-nights road odyssey - from both perception and self-confidence standpoints, the performance and result Wednesday were vitally important under the Johnny-less circumstances.

"It helps,'' agreed Gulutzan. "A lot. It helps in establishing an identity, how we need to win. 

"Because we recognize that we lost a really good player. And now collectively we have to play a certain way to get ourselves in position to get points in this league.

"We look at it as something we can rally around and try to find a true identity here."

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