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SHUTTING THE DOOR

Flames are downright deadly with the lead after 40 minutes

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

These guys are closers. They can bring the heat, mow down the heart of any batting lineup in order in the bottom of ninth innings.

How good?

Think 30-0-1 after two periods good.

Think Mariano Rivera good.

"Really?'' laughed Michael Stone, taking off his No. 26 helmet and slipping on a N.Y. Yankees ballcap momentarily. "That's great company right there.

"He's only the best ever.

"Any time you get up in a game, you want to close it out. You want to have that reputation, of being hard to crack.

"You want teams to know you can shut the door."

Against a proud, experienced, battle-tested L.A. Kings team in desperate need of points to keep dwindling playoff hopes alive, the Flames took a 4-2 advantage into the third period and not only held fast but expanded on it, winning 5-2.

Video: Gulutzan says team did a great job start to finish

"We talked about that at length, about what a good hockey club they are and what we needed to do to match or exceed their will,'' said Calgary boss Glen Gulutzan.

"I thought our guys did a really good job. I really liked the third. We didn't give up much. I thought we were dedicated for 60."

In nailing down their 41st win of the season, the Flames didn't merely, as Stone said, shut the door.

They barricaded it. Slapped on the deadbolt.

"The secret to that,'' said goaltender Brian Elliott, "is getting up (in the first place), so you can shut things down. That's what we're talking about in the locker room before we go out. 

"And it's not just talk. It's action. From the leaders on down the line. Everybody's doing the little details."

Calgary had established its lead with a pair of two-goal quick strikes - in a 3:21 span in the first period via Sean Monahan and Stone's first as a Flame, and 50-seconds early in the second, courtesy Mark Giordano and a Johnny Gaudreau breakaway beauty.

"It feels good to contribute," said Stone. "I wasn't contributing as much as I would've liked (in Arizona, pre-trade) or as much as I was last year.

"To be able to do that here with skilled players who are going to get you the puck is awesome."

The early strikes spelled the end for L.A.'s starting goaltender Jonathan Quick, given the ol' vaudeville hook by Darryl Sutter after allowing two goals on seven shots.

Reliever Ben Bishop was dinged for the Giordano and Gaudreau strikes in the second.

Then, as has become custom, the Flames rolled up their sleeves and embraced the grunt work of locking down a lead, suffocating the Kings - now six points behind Nashville and the final wild-card berth in the Western Conference - to only half-a -ozen shots.

With Bishop planted on the pine in favour of the extra attacker, Kris Versteeg found an empty L.A. net for his 13th of the year and providing Curtis Lazar - making his Calgary debut - with his first point in the colours.

"Our four lines,'' said freshman Matthew Tkachuk, "are really responsible (defensively). Any 50-50 play just get it out, take your medicine.

"When we had a lead late in the game, we're all committed. Nobody's trying to score. We're trying to protect our lead. If a scoring chance is there, take full advantage.

"But if not, play hard and play for each other."

That degree of commitment has been the backbone of these 10 wins in Calgary's last 11 games. Sunday they leapfrogged Edmonton into third place in the Pacific division, one point in arrears of Anaheim and now only five adrift of the leading San Jose Sharks.

"I thought our third was great,'' said captain Giordano. "Our attention to detail, getting above pucks, really sucked the life out of it a bit but that's what you want in the third period. Shut it down defensively.

"Get some looks but the for the most part we're just protecting the lead and playing solid."

A quick look through a dictionary at the moment and Brian Elliott's photo might be included beside the definition of 'Solid.' 

"Again,'' repeated Giordano, "the timely saves are the ones that are key this time of year. There was one in the third that got him in the shoulder. I was on the ice and I thought it was in the net.

"He comes up with the big saves at the right times."

Video: Elliott on team's two points and 11th straight win

Sunday's win, Elliott's 11th straight, equalled Mike Vernon's franchise record, established during the club's glory season, 1988-89.

"Any time you're mentioned in the same sentence as a guy like Mike Vernon it's an accomplishment,'' said Elliott. "Pretty cool. But for right now it' those two points we got and they didn't.

"Lazar getting his first points or me tying a record it's all about the team in here. And that's what I love about it."

Elliott's record-tying night came after the group had pieced together a franchise-best-equalling 10-game win string.

"We've had a couple things historical going on,'' said Gulutzan. "I think that's great for Brian. Because of all the work he's put in. Both our goalies, him and Johnny (Chad Johnson), are workers. Low maintenance. So to see him get rewarded … he's the catalyst of this run we're on.

"And I'm glad he's got something to show for it here in Calgary."

 

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