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Sweep at hands of Ducks painful end to season for Flames

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

If there's an image that lingers in mind's eye from the embers of Wednesday night, it's of Brian Elliott perched stone-still on the end of the Calgary bench, his night over almost before it had begun, mask still on so as not to betray his emotions.

"As a goalie,'' he said later, "you take pride on giving yourself and your team a chance to win every night and that …"

Elliott's voice drifted off. 

"I still can't explain how it goes under my pad there.

"I feel bad.

"I mean, I didn't give the guys a chance right off the bat.

"(Sitting there) you can't do anything about it. You just try to become the biggest cheerleader for the team. It's tough to swallow, especially in an elimination game.

"That's not how you imagine things happening."

Video: Brian Elliott gives his assessment of Game 4

A 3-1 loss and a four-game sweep is certainly not how the Flames envisioned this opening-round series happening, either.

The final dagger may have been plunged into an empty Flames' net by Anaheim Ducks' captain Ryan Getzlaf with 6.2 seconds left on the Scotiabank Saddledome scoreclock but in truth squandered opportunities, a blown three-goal lead Monday night, a lack of 5-on-5 goals (two, the entire series) poor discipline early and a ridiculous deflected goal to decide Game 2 at the Honda Center conspired to do them in.

That, and the Ducks' ability to rise at the key moments. Their playoff-tested vets showed off that polish when it mattered most.

"It definitely wasn't warranted,'' said Kris Versteeg, on the short-list for Calgary's best player through the four games, of the quick exit. "Today, and the day before and the day before that we played some great hockey in the series.

"I know it goes in the record books as a sweep but, man, I thought we played really good hockey. We played hard.

"It sucks right now.

"They got great young players, great coaching staff, one of the best leaders in the game.

"So there are blue skies ahead for this organization."

Imagine the most nightmarish start imaginable and then double it. Less than six minutes in the Eaves flip from a poor angle somehow wriggled through Elliott and the post.

Unwilling to gamble any further, Flames' boss Glen Gulutzan made the switch to Chad Johnson, ending Elliott's night at 5:38, after three shots.

Video: The Flames coach provides his thoughts on the series

"I didn't like the goal,'' said Gulutzan. "I just felt at that time I thought we needed a spark. You look at our first four, five minutes and we were jittery, before the goal.

"When it happened, I felt we needed something to turn around our mindset.

"To be frank, I worried about that from the morning skate. I could feel and sense from the way they skated, the (way the) meetings were that we needed to get out of the first period and get our feet under us.

"And we didn't."

Owing to injury and the stellar calibre of Elliott's play down the stretch, Johnson was conscripted into the breach having logged a grand total of 5:19 of playing time between March 15 and Wednesday.

Alas, he didn't get much time to re-acclimatize to game speed.

Less than a minute after his arrival between the pipes, Ducks' pivot Nate Thompson, a surprise star of the series, infiltrated the blue paint to convert the rebound of a Rickard Rakell shot.

"It's definitely a short leash,'' acknowledged Elliott of the quick hook. "I'm not saying I deserve a longer one after that.

"It's tough when you can't go out and redeem yourself. But the guys did a great job trying to come back. They put it all out there.

"I'm definitely proud of how they finished that one.

It took awhile to work through their shock, regain their equilibrium and sense of urgency but the Flames went on their shield, drawing to within one on Sean Monahan's fourth of the series.

Gulutzan got Johnson to the bench in favour of an extra attacker with 2:39 left but there was no way through the wall of Anaheim resistance.

Video: Giordano on the series against the Ducks

"Nobody in this room should hang their head,'' said Calgary skipper Mark Giordano. "We battled hard every game. But you've got to give them credit.

"They got in shooting lanes all night. They were blocking a lot of shots, forcing us to shoot wide or make the extra play. Their goalie played well.

"They find ways to win. They're big. They're skilled. Sometimes you've just got to tip your hat."

After being dinged for the quick Thompson goal, Johnson put in a solid evening's work, stopping 20 shots.

"It's difficult when you get down 2-0,'' he said of his first NHL playoff experience. "Especially in an important game like this. Give them credit, they battled and (John) Gibson made some timely saves.

"We just didn't get the bounces.

"But you get what you deserve. And they probably deserved to win this series."

Wrapping their heads around the finality of Wednesday night may take some time, though.

"It's a little foggy right now,'' confessed Versteeg. "Just trying to process everything.

"Maybe I'll have a couple beverages and try to forget about it."

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