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Flames drop behind early but score two late third-period goals in dramatic comeback attempt

by TY PILSON @TyPilson /

The hardest thing to do in hockey is score goals.

There's a reason that mantra has been around as long as the game itself.

For much of Tuesday's New Year's Eve affair at the Scotiabank Saddledome, the Flames were again snakebitten, unable to solve Chicago Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner.


Tweet from @NHLFlames: The @DreamRideAB Post-Game Show is LIVE 🔴 with highlights, interviews and analysis following tonight's game.#CHIvsCGY | #Flames



But they didn't give up.

They kept diggin' and kept battlin' and scored two late third-period goals in a span of 1:18 for a dramatic rally, but fell short in a 5-3 loss.

The defeat came two days after they were beaten 5-2 by the Canucks at home.

And just like in the loss to Vancouver, they fell behind early.

And just like the loss to Vancouver, they also struggled to score despite generating quality chances.

The Flames talked at length about what they deemed a poor start after the first loss Sunday.

They found themselves down 3-0 by time 10:52 had ticked off the clock in the first period.

Fast forward to Tuesday night.

A similar script played out.

Olli Maatta's point shot at 4:14 found it's way under David Rittich's arm to put the visitors ahead 1-0 on their fifth shot.

On the next possession, Rittich was tested again, making a great save on Dominik Kubalink right on the doorstep in tight.

Just 1:21 seconds later though - with Derek Ryan in the box for a holding penalty - Chicago converted on the powerplay, Alex DeBrincat smacking a one-timer in the slot from down on one knee to make it two-zip.

Patrick Kane - who collected assists on both tallies - scored to make it 3-0 at the 12:44 mark, taking a pass as he skated into the Calgary zone and then cut across the middle with a long-distance wrister that found net short-side.

The Flames had their fair share of chances in the first, the best coming with just under five minutes to play when Ryan passed across to Johnny Gaudreau on a 2-on-1 with a seemingly wide-open net, but Lehner making a larcenous diving paddle save on the shot to drop jaws across the arena.

Andrew Mangiapane got the next great chance for the homeside, sprung on a breakaway in the second period and trying to go five-hole, but Lehner snapped the pads together to deny him.

Later, while the teams were skating 4-on-4, Travis Hamonic walked in with a wicked wrister that didn't find the mark and on the ensuing Blackhawks rush, Dylan Strome put one past Rittich at 9:41.

The Flames kept coming, especially in the final six minutes of the frame:

  • Mikael Backlund had two in-tight chances on one shift;
  • Elias Lindholm wired one from dead-centre in the slot on a 3-on-2 rush with Sean Monahan and Gaudreau;
  • Monahan got a couple of whacks at the puck right beside the post and Lehner's left pad after Gaudreau feathered a backhand pass across the crease to him;
  • Mangiapane sent a cross-ice pass to Ryan, who took a second to settle the puck, Lehner coming across and getting a piece of the ensuing shot with his glove.

Finally their hard work was rewarded, as Sam Bennett scored with just six seconds left in the second period.

Noah Hanifin pinched to create a turnover and keep the puck in the Chicago zone, with Ryan eventually grabbing it and spinning behind the net to buy time, before putting a short pass out to Bennett who jammed it home.


Tweet from @NHLFlames: 💯 pass from Doc, excellent finish from Benny.#CHIvsCGY | #Flames


The third, unfortunately, was more of the same for much of the frame.

Until the 15:30 mark, when Michael Frolik scored while the Flames were shorthanded.

Lindholm forced Chicago defenceman Duncan Keith to cough the puck up behind the net, with it going out to Frolik who squeezed it short-side on a quick shot.


Tweet from @NHLFlames: A thing of beauty.#CHIvsCGY | #Flames


Just 1:18 later, Monahan finished off a goal-mouth scramble, elevating a puck up-and-over Lehner after Matthew Tklachuk had the first crack on the doorstep.


Tweet from @NHLFlames: Mony cuts the lead to 1���#CHIvsCGY | #Flames


With Rittich pulled, they poured it for the last two minutes with the Blackhawks hemmed in their zone for much of the time.

Another shot and goal-mouth scramble resulted in Lehner with yet another big stop and weird rebound Tkachuk missed putting home, the puck ending up on the stick of Kane who fired it into the empty-net with less than a second on the clock.



Sam Bennett on the night:

"I mean it's hard to pinpoint one thing. I think we're coming out flat. I think we have to do a better job on the forecheck. You could see in the latter half of the second and the third our forecheck was way better and they were turning over pucks. But we got to start limiting our turnovers in the first and just play simple hockey."


Video: "We showed tons of fight in the third period."


Mark Giordano on the start:

"I think we came out with the right mindset but the last couple of games, I think you let them get those early ones, and they got one on their powerplay again tonight, we gotta do a better job. I mean, down three, four goals in this league, although we made a good push, it's a tough mountain to climb and for whatever reason, we have to have better starts. So, we gotta figure it out quick and move forward."


Video: "When you get down, you push"


Matthew Tkachuk on what went wrong:

"I don't really know what the answer is fully. If we knew it, it wouldn't have happened tonight again but I guess we'll, I'm sure, next time we do video or whatever we'll go over the past two first periods and try to change it because going behind 3-0 in this league, after the first, that's hard to come back from. Gave a little push at the end, it gets everybody fired up and gets the energy in the building but there's no point for us to put ourselves in that position after the first period."


Video: "In this league, that's hard to come back from."


Interim coach Geoff Ward on the result:

"It's a lot like the last game, you know. Slow start and ended up chasing the hockey game." 


Video: "Slow start and we ended up chasing the game"



The Flames played on New Year's Eve for the seventh straight year. Since December 31, 2013, the Flames have a record of 4-3-0 when playing on NYE. Last season, the Flames beat the San Jose Sharks 8-5 ... Tkachuk and Mark Giordano have been selected to take part in the upcoming NHL all-star game on Jan. 25 in St. Louis. It will be the first all-star appearance for St. Louis native Tkachuk, the third for Giordano. The Flames could add another as Gaudreau is the Flames rep for the Last Men In online fan vote. Click here for more...  Heading into Tuesday's tilt, the Flames had a record of 46-29-8 in the year 2019 - a total of 100 points, the eighth best record in the league. The Flames scored 256 goals in the calendar year which is the 11th most in the NHL ... Mangiapane made his NHL debut against the Blackhawks on Dec. 31, 2017 ... The Flames wore their retro third jerseys against the Blackhawks. They will wear them 10 more times this season. Click here for the schedule.




Tweet from @NHLFlames: Your NYE starters: David Rittich, Noah Hanifin, Travis Hamonic, @RinaldoZac, @TobiRieder8, Michael Frolik.#CHIvsCGY | #Flames | @Schneiders


The trios and D-pairings to start last night's tilt:


Matthew Tkachuk - Elias Lindholm - Andrew Mangiapane

Sam Bennett - Sean Monahan - Mikael Backlund

Milan Lucic - Derek Ryan - Johnny Gaudreau

Zac Rinaldo - Tobias Rieder - Michael Frolik



Mark Giordano - Rasmus Andersson

Noah Hanifin - Travis Hamonic

Oliver Kylington - Michael Stone



David Rittich



The Rangers are in town Thursday for a 7 p.m. tilt (click here for tickets), before the Flames head out on the road for a two-game set in Minnesota on Sunday and Chicago Tuesday. They return to the Scotiabank Saddledome on Jan. 9 to host the Wild (click here for tickets).

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