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Gaudreau shines during Flames comeback win against Jets

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

There are nights, special nights, when he seems capable of virtually anything. 

Of making magic from the mundane. Of moving both heaven and ice.

On opening night, we saw half of one of those nights.

And that turned out to be more than enough to see off the Winnipeg Jets.

"Sometimes those little changes get a team going," reasoned Johnny Gaudreau, of his personal, and the Flames' collective, second-half resurgence in Saturday evening's Scotiabank Saddledome 6-3 curtain-raising victory,

"You never know whether it's going to stay that way but when you're not getting offence, you've got to change things.

"We changed things up, the line started clicking a little bit more, we found the net a couple of times and it was a great comeback."

When Gaudreau starts feeling it, the Flames usually do, too. Funny how that works.

Those all-seeing Avatar eyes. The stealthy cheek of a Times Square pickpocket. As smooth as a snifter of XO cognac on a cold winter's night.

Shifted away by coach Glen Gulutzan from usual compadres Sean Monahan and Michael Ferland to be partnered with Sam Bennett and Curtis Lazar, Gaudreau began to warm to the opening-night occasion.

"The reason I did it, I didn't think we were very good the first 30,'' explained Gulutzan. "I didn't see a lot happening. What went through my mind is that sometimes guys get a little excited playing with Johnny.

"You put him with Curtis and Benny and right away, first shift, they had a little spark."

Crazy thing is, as sublime as Gaudreau was through the closing 30 Saturday, defenceman T.J. Brodie was that good all evening.

Both men - Brodie with two goals and two assists, Gaudreau with one snipe and three helpers - finished with four points.

"You can feel it when things aren't going your way,'' said Gaudreau. "You're getting pucks in deep and they're breaking out on you and you're in the defensive zone right away.

"The next thing you know, guys are getting off at the right time, we were hemming them in for two or three changes, getting pucks to the point and bodies in front."

Video: Gaudreau on Flames' turnaround after slow start

Lazar, making his season debut, also shone, particularly when matched up beside Gaudreau and Bennett.

"He's a world class-player,'' praised Lazar of No. 13. "I'll try and do the heavy-lifting out there. Just establish a forecheck there. We were just feeding off each other and that's a great feeling.

"I know for myself, my game doesn't change whoever I'm playing with. It's nice to get rewarded out there. I probably could've had a couple of goals.

"My mindset hasn't changed at all throughout pre-season. I started slow out of the gates but I think you guys were more concerned than I was."

Gaudreau had his handprints on both of Brodie's goals before Brodie returned the favour at 17:02 of the middle frame, cooly dipping inside a corkscrewing Jet before spotting the Lady Byng Trophy winner lurking undetected and slinging over an absolutely filthy pass to the far face-off circle.

Video: WPG@CGY: Gaudreau finds twine on Brodie's slick feed

Significantly, Lazar made the whole thing happen, rooting around for the puck with the single-mindedness of a Tuscan truffle hound, keeping the offensive pressure alive while on his knees.

"Lazer made a great play in the corner, got the puck up to me on the wall,'' recalled Gaudreau. "I saw Brodes, sent it to him and he did his magic. Walked the defenceman and sends me backdoor for a wide-open tap-in. Easy for me.

"Great vision. Great play by him."

The Flames exploded out of their offensive doldrums to torch Jets' goaltender Steve Mason for a second-period four-spot - via Brodie, Michael Ferland, Gaudreau and Kris Versteeg - transforming a two-goal deficit into a 5-3 lead.

Mikael Backlund's nimble deflection 16 seconds into the third well and truly put the Manitobans to bed.

"We needed to be better,'' said Gaudreau. "Costly powerplay goal we gave up there. Gave one up on the PK and then a face-off goal. In the second, we played most of the time in their offensive zone and did a great job cycling pucks, getting pucks to the point and guys in front. It's easy that way."

For the Flames, a vital 30 minutes of improvement on the heels of a disappointing 3-0 season-opener in Edmonton and before embarking on an always tricky two-game California swing, through Anaheim and L.A.

"Between our speciality teams and (goaltender Mike Smith)'s key saves when they could've closed the door on us was the difference,'' said Gulutzan.

"We just challenged our guys inbetween the first and the second about what our identity is, what our game is. We've talked about this for so long. We want to get back to our game as quickly as we can.

"Maybe they forgot about it for 90 minutes.

"I think we were 40 and 23 to end last season and I was waiting for that game to come out.

"The last 30 (Saturday) is kinda getting back on the horse the way we're going to play."

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