CALGARY, AB -- There they were. Plain as day, right in front of our very eyes.
It was the Calgary Flames team we all grew to love last season. The team that shouldn't have been there, that shouldn't have won all those come-from-behind games that vaulted them into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in six seasons.
Friday night at Scotiabank Saddledome we saw exactly what we grew accustomed to, and have only seen glimpses of this season.
Heart. Character. Compete.
Dramatic? Perhaps. But given the circumstances, a theatrical 3-2 overtime home victory over the Detroit Red Wings with the Flames captain leading the way not only resulted in a much needed two points, it was exactly what Calgary needed before heading out East on a tough three-game road swing.
“I thought that was us. I thought that was our game," said Flames captain Mark Giordano, who netted the overtime marker with a nifty forehand-to-backhand move. "We were relentless on the forecheck, we created a lot, we held the puck more in the neutral zone, which was a big key tonight. We didn’t just throw it up and give it away.
“Good feeling going on the road. That’s what we needed.”
A trip that takes them to Madison Square Garden to battle the 5-2 New York Rangers, a building the Flames haven't left with a win since Dec. 7, 2008. The following night a date with the 4-2 New York Islanders in their new digs at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and then finishing off in Ottawa against the Senators, where they performed perhaps their most impressive magic trick last season, down 4-0 with ten minutes left to play and leaving with a shootout loser point.
It doesn't get any easier.
In fact, it won't get any easier for the remaining 75 games. That's just the reality of the new NHL. The parity from top to bottom in the league has never been more apparent, all the more reason the Flames of 2015-16 need to be the Flames of 2014-15.
Prior to Friday, the Flames were sputtering, struggling to find their game and still looking for a full 60-minute effort. They were 1-5 out of the gate and just couldn't seem to find their groove.
Everything changed Friday. After an average first period against the Wings, Calgary rolled up their sleeves and completely dominated in the final two frames, outshouting Detroit 29-13 and finally finding the equalizer after numerous glorious chances.
“It’s something we really needed. I think that’s what we had in mind when we talked about playing better," said starting netminder Jonas Hiller, whose 27-save performance was his best this season. "We were a little so-so in the first but we got our confidence in the second and probably played our best period of the season in the third. We could’ve easily tied the game earlier.
We’ll take it. It’s definitely two great points and a game we can really build on going on this road trip.”
Joe Colborne, who was sidelined for the first five games with an injury, summed it up best after the game.
“That was Calgary Flames hockey right there. That’s what we were so proud of and what we spent a year-and-a-half, two years building towards. That’s our team right there.”
If not for Giordano's two-goal, three-point night, Colborne would have been the first star. He was all over the ice, playing physical and created chances all night.
The 25-year-old, playing in his second game of the season, picked a good time to find the back of the net for the first time this season. With Hiller on the bench for the extra attacker, Colborne redirected a Giordano point shot with just 1:12 left in the third period to tie the game.
“Whether it's late in the game, overtime, shootouts If you don't want to be that guy, then I think you're in the wrong sport," Colborne stated. "Everyone's been that guy throughout their careers. Again, I was fortunate enough for the coaches to throw me over. I took Hills when he changed. But it could have been one of nine or 10 guys that were on the bench that brought their best effort of the year.”
Everything came together for the Flames on Friday but it was by-product of a team that rediscovered who they are. It's only one game but it just might be the start of Calgary getting back on their feet and showing the rest of the league they're back.
It's going to have to be if the Flames are going to push for a playoff spot for the second straight year.
“It gives us confidence," said Sean Monahan, who collected career point number 100 with an assist on the overtime winner. “We all believe in each other in this room and when you fight back in games like that and come out with a win, it gives you that much more confidence and you want to win more.”
We'll find out when the Flames return home Thursday after three games in four nights on the road.