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Big start, big finish vaults Flames over Islanders for third straight win

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick /

Eleven hours earlier, Bill Peters held court and declared - with some certainty - that his team was "back."

The proof is always in the pudding, but after posting back-to-back wins and with a fellow division leader, the New York Islanders, in town to supply another stiff test, he felt the bye-week blues were long in the rear.

Oh, they're back, alright.

To what they were, pre-break.

And to what they are, this year.

The Flames jumped out to a 2-0 lead, lost it, then took it right back with a valiant third-period effort, scoring twice in a 28-second span to renew the two-goal cushion and sail to a 4-2 win.

Their third straight.

Video: Flames net two quick goals in the 3rd, top Islanders

Mikael Backlund, former Islander Travis Hamonic, Austin Czarnik and Johnny Gaudreau had goals, while Mike Smith - who made his fourth consecutive start - made 17 stops.

"Real happy with the way we played," said head coach Bill Peters. "I thought all four lines, all three sets of D found a way to contribute. ... I liked the way we played; I thought we were on our toes, and we set the tone."

Despite outshooting the Isles and vastly outplaying them in each period, the Flames found themselves in a 2-2 game early in the third.

They could have succumbed to the pressure; lost their grip after surrendering a two-goal lead.

But, no.

Two quick goals turned the game back in favour of the homeside, who finished with a 32-19 lead on the shot clock.

Czarnik got the ball rolling at 6:10. The initial blast by Mark Jankowski was turned aside by Thomas Greiss, but 'Z' jumped on the rebound at the edge of the blue paint, forced it back into the slot and put it off Leo Komarov's right foot and in score his third in as many games.

The game-winner.

"We played great from start to finish," Czarnik said. "Obviously, they had a little pushback in the third, which we expected, but to stick with it, that was huge.

"I think our team was going the whole night. For us to come out on top tonight was a big step for us and we want to close out this homestand with another win."

Gaudreau salted this one away with a powerplay goal at 6:38, as he tattooed a head-high slapshot from inside the left dot over the shoulder of the netminder to snap a 10-game goal drought and tie a career high with his 30th of the year.

Video: NYI@CGY: Czarnik, Gaudreau strike 29 seconds apart

With the victory, the Flames improve to 37-16-7 on the year and now have a three-point lead on the San Jose Sharks for first in the Pacific.

"When you're playing good teams like that, you've got to show up, and we did right from the start, I thought," Hamonic said.

"Even in that span where we weren't playing our best - and I'm always one to look on the bright side of things - we were still collecting points. We felt like we were doing some good things, but some of the results weren't there. I think we've done well all season with that.

"Win, loss, we reset and re-boot."

Only moments after Matthew Tkachuk pounded the short-side post off an incredible feed from Gaudreau at the right hash, the Flames opened the scoring, anyway, with an absolute beauty off the rush. Michael Frolik burst onto the scene of a loose puck in the neutral zone, slowed up and drove wide as he waited for reinforcements, with but a single Islander back to defend. Frolik then delivered a filthy saucer pass over the sprawling Scott Mayfield, allowing Backlund to meet up with it and tuck it home with an equally dirty forehand deke.

The Flames opened up a two-goal lead at 15:59, immediately after Elias Lindholm won a key offensive-zone draw to retain possession and keep the Islanders on their heels. The puck made its way back to Hamonic, who unloaded from the right point, buzzing the left ear of the screened Greiss to record his fifth of the campaign and first-ever against his former team.

"I'd be lying if I didn't say it felt good," Hamonic said of the goal. "I had a lot of good memories over there. I got my start in the league from Charles (Wang), Garth (Snow) and Jack Capuano. So many friends and great memories on Long Island. To be able to put one in tonight, it obviously feels good."

Video: NYI@CGY: Hamonic sends long shot past Greiss

It might just have been Calgary's best period of the year. They just happened to do it with a flair not seen in some time, hitting on almost every pass and suffocating their opponent with a relentless forecheck in the rare moments of pushback.

The Flames opened up an 18-5 lead on the shot clock by the midway point of the second, but that slim, two-goal lead left many clamoring for some insurance.

Instead, the Isles got a fortuitous bounce after the Flames turned the puck over in their own zone, and just like that, it was a 2-1 game courtesy of Casey Cizikas.

The Islanders then evened the score at 1:18 of the third, after the Flames were caught puck-watching in their own end. Jordan Eberle took a centering pass from Brock Nelson and corralled the bouncing puck at the side of the net, before chopping it back into the slot, where Anders Lee slammed it into yawning cage.

And still, the visitors had only eight shots.

"We've been in so many situations here as a group, it was no big deal," Peters said. "It was right back to work."

"There was good composure on the bench. No issue there."

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