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Flames have to learn from Game 1 mistakes if they want to get a split in Anaheim

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

ANAHEIM - This had nothing whatever to with any sort of curse.

Can't blame the outcome on some malevolent shaman sticking pins in a Flames voodoo doll fashioned out of soap.

Nothing involving a hex or a whammy or the long-standing continuation of some supernatural black magic.

This series-opening 3-2 loss at the Honda Centre can be classified as an opportunity lost. Largely self-inflicted.

"It's tough,'' said the heroic Brian Elliott, "when we give them everything.

"Two powerplay goals and a bad change. It's not like they earned it that much.

"We kinda gave it to them."

"We clean things up and we'll take care of business."

Elliott was absolutely superb in a 38-save turn. Micheal Ferland was back to his rollicking 2015 springtime best. Kris Versteeg's continued to be the greatest bargain pick-up in many a moon.

But handing a team the quality of the Ducks seven powerplays was always going to be recipe for disaster. Officially, they went 2-for-6. 

And, tellingly, the visitors failed to deliver the goods during a 1:13 5-on-3 in the late stages, despite good looks for both Ferland and Johnny Gaudreau.

"We didn't have enough zone time on that one,'' grumbled skipper Mark Giordano of the comeback-killing two-man advantage.

"In the second period I thought we started getting our legs going but we made a couple mistakes that we'd like to have back.

"We took way too many penalties. But in saying that, we still had a couple good looks at the end. You'd like to have a couple of those shots back.

"They were holding their line (on the 5-on-3). Listen, I had a look you dream of in the slot there I'd like to get that one up there and score but he made a good save."

In reflection, Thursday can be viewed as an opportunity lost.

But there's much to draw upon as they prepare for Saturday's second game.

Their major problems in this opener are identifiable and correctible.

"That's what we talked about after the game,'' sighed Versteeg, whose two letter-perfect passes - to Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett - arranged Calgary's goals. "We didn't bring near our best. We were undisciplined at times but we still gave ourselves a chance to win.

"On the 5-on-3 we didn't set up the way we wanted to. We've got to find ways to be big in those moments if we're going to beat a team like that.

"You give them that many (powerplay) chances they're going to make you play."

The evening's turning point was easy to pinpoint: Having forged ahead 2-1 and beginning to boss proceedings, the Flames fell asleep at pivotal moments.

The culprit: A line change to the bench that resembled a migration of giant Galapagos tortoises. Yes, it was that slow.

Spotting Ryan Getzlaf off alone by the Calgary blueline, Kevin Bieksa took a peek, didn't see a Flame from Anaheim to Encino, outletting from deep in his own zone to the Ducks' captain.

A three-on-Elliott.

Courageously, left utterly alone, Elliott stabbed away Getzlaf's initial howitzer but Ricky Rackell swooped in to mop up and equalize.

"I have to watch it from a different angle cause all I saw is three guys coming,'' said Elliott. "You try to stand your ground but that can't happen this time of year.

"We've got to protect ourselves on changes, especially in second periods."

A goaltender interference penalty on Lance Bouma for clattering into John Gibson set the stage for the game winner, a shot that squeezed between Elliott's left arm and body at 17:47 of the third period.

In the four-day build-up to Game 1, the word discipline was thrown around, oh, something like 10,000 times. It didn't register strongly enough, it seems.

The loss hurts, no doubt, but the aim was to come in here, end the lengthy losing string in the building and head home with a split.

That's still very much in play.

"We have some youthful exuberance,'' said coach Glen Gulutzan. "We'll lose our rhythm if we take six minors. It affects your top players' ice time.

"We're a team that needs to play with pace and some rhythm and we didn't get it tonight.

"There's going to be some positives out of this game. There's going to be some learning out of this game. We're a young group. We took notice of their start. The discipline.

"But there were of parts that game 5-on-5 the chances were quite even. There are things we're going to take out, things we brush up and get better.

"Not unlike our season, we started off taking too many penalties. We have to close that down here quicker in the playoffs."

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