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Despite loss, Flames thrilled to have played on big stage in 'perfect,' snowy conditions

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

REGINA - At puck-drop, 8:15 local time, the thermometer hovered at a tolerable 2 degrees celsius but dropped steadily.

By the eight-minute mark, what had been a light snow dusting had strengthened.

In other words, an ideal night for outdoor hockey.

"Playing in that type of an environment,'' said Matthew Tkachuk, post-game, "where it's snowing, it's causing the ice to be slower, you're falling, you're losing the puck, bounces all over the place ..,

"You just knew it was going to be a low-scoring game.

"And it was fun."

The lone disappointment for a Flames' standpoint in Heritage Classic, 2019 edition?

The outcome.

A 2-1 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets in front of 33,000-plus at Mosaic Stadium stung, considering the Flames held a lead late in the third period and the top-drawer calibre of performance David Rittich provided in goal.

"Flat-out fantastic," is how Calgary coach Bill Peters described the experience.

That'd also describe Big Save Dave, who conjured up 43 saves.

"Ah, man, he was amazing,'' lauded captain Mark Giordano. "Tough way to lose. We had 'em 1-0. I've got to look at my penalty there. They score, it's a tough feeling,

"Ritter played great all game, made big saves."

But he couldn't stop Bryan Little, converting a Kyle Connor 2-on-1 goalmouth pass 3:04 into OT to deny the Flames a second Heritage Classic victory.

A minor penalty issued to Sean Monahan for tripping Winnipeg centre Mark Scheifele had put the Flames under siege early in overtime.

With the Jets sensing blood, Rittich found himself flat on his back to deny a Scheifele chance from the top of the blue paint. Then Blake Wheeler cranked a poison dart off the post.

The Jets had equalized 1-1 on their fourth powerplay of the evening, D-man Josh Morrissey teeing up a scorcher from the point at 15:49 of the third period.

Rittich had moments earlier produced a pair of stellar stops to maintain the Flames' slender lead, brushing aside a Nikolaj Ehlers howitzer and shutting the wickets to deny Jack Roslovic on a clear-cut breakaway.

A contentious powerplay snapped open a taut, scoreless duel at 14:47 of the middle stanza, Tkachuk once again showing off that insane hand-eye co-ordination, reaching to knock an airborne clearing attempt down with his stick to maintain the zone.

Moments later a Johnny Gaudeau centering pass was shepherded home past Hellebuyck by Elias Lindholm, stationed inside of a thicket of Jet defenders.

Winnipeg boss Paul Maurice challenged the on-ice call, claiming high-stick, but his appeal was overturned, the goal stood, and the Flames marched back out to the powerplay.

Mixing the lines to try and jump start the group, Peters shifted Lindholm from right wing to centre on the top unit, to act as fulcrum for Tkachuk and Gaudreau.

Over the opening 20 minutes, the 'visiting' Flames certainly generated the early chances.

Right off the hop, Gaudreau, trying to shake out of scoring slump that has seen him collect only two points over seven fixtures, sashayed in alone off the right boards only to be turned back by Hellebuyck.

Given a few inches of freedom and taking considerably more, the quicksilver Gaudreau caught the Jets' D flat-footed again, speeding down the same side, but snapped his shot wide and off the glass.

At the opposite end, as the period wore on and the snow grew ever more insistent, Rittich increasingly found himself the busier of the two goalies, eventually repelling all 14 shots directed his way.

Most impressively, he stood tall, played to his 6-foot-3 frame, as Jets' centre Jack Roslovic ignored the pass on a 2-on-1 and ripped a shot. Later, he was alert in reaching behind him to quell the danger as centre Bryan Little prodded a puck net-ward out of a melee.

So, a tough way to conclude a fantastic moment.

But the memories remain.

"It's been great ever since we got here,'' said Giordano. "You can't say enough about. The ice was good. I didn't think the wind was a factor.

"And the crowd was great. You tell there's a lot of passion for sports here. We knew that watching their football team on TV and coming to McMahon for Stamps games.

"You can tell it's a sports town, a sports province. And they've done an unbelievable job."

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