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TOUGH ONE TO SWALLOW

Flames in difficult spot after loss

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

They returned home to a tumultuous welcome, more along the lines of Caesar marching into Rome after the sack of Gaul or Lindbergh's Atlantic solo crossing parade down 5th Avenue than a team two games in arrears in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

They exited the building three hours later, the bedlam having turned to stunned silence.

Their world shrunk now to 60 minutes.

"We can't look beyond that, the next game,'' said Flames' captain Mark Giordano. "We have no room for error.

"But I've got to admit, this is tough. As tough as I can remember.

"We were completely dominating the game … We've got to rebound better from them scoring goals. They get to within two and I thought in the third period we didn't have enough push or drive.

"We allowed them to come. In the third period we shelled up a little bit.

"Again, you do so many good things but it's those key moments in the game … a 4-1 game you've to close it out.

"No excuses.

"You get four goals, you've got to win the game. Bottom line.

"We've got to find a way to hammer that one down."

The Anaheim Ducks made real the inexplicable at 1:30 of OT, the villainous Corey Perry firing an exploratory pass/shot from the half-boards through a set of skates, goaltender Brian Elliott deflecting the puck into the air where it actually bounced in off of Michael Stone's backside.

Yes, his backside.

It was that kind of game. It's been that kind of series.

Over the regular season, the Flames were a spotless 33-0 when leading after 40 minutes. Monday, they allowed a two-goal lead to evaporate over the closing period.

"I have to own that," said Elliott afterwards.

"Not an easy one. Especially personally. I didn't feel I played very well.

"I let the team down a little bit. The guys spotted four goals. We should win a game like that.

"To lose off a bounce like that … you want to help the team more than hurt it. It's tough to swallow right now."

The Ducks felt their playoff pedigree allowed them to hang in and mount the comeback.

"I saw a replay quick,'' said Perry. "I was just trying to get at the net. I knew (Nate Thompson) was in front. (Ricky Rakell) made a good play along the wall to get it over to me. We stuck with it all night, getting pucks to the net and it worked out for us.

"You never say never. You just keep pushing shift after shift and just get pucks to the net. Like I said, we found a way and that's all that matters."

Lashed to the mast as the tempest roared around them, the Flames uncharacteristically wilted. Thompson's contested deflection brought them to within one and then defenceman Shea Theodore - a five-goal career man - struck for his second of the night, with only 4:21 left, a shot deflecting off Sam Bennett and in to send the game into overtime.

And it had all begun so promisingly …

Though the first period the Flames had engaged in a waterfowl edition of Whack-A-Mole, fashioning more hits - 13, officially - than the Bee Gees in the '70s. The most punishing: Bennett's borderline crumpling of long-time antagonist Kevin Bieksa like a discarded cigarette package, face first, against the corner signage.

No coincidence that goals arrived, too. Sean Monahan's third in as many games, choreographed by Troy Brouwer, then Kris Versteeg slotting home. Both via the powerplay.

Those were followed in the second by a Stone wrecking ball and an inadvertent Bennett re-direct, taking up squatter's rights inside the blue paint, Mark Giordano's shot glancing off the 20-year-old and in, finis for Ducks' starter John Gibson.

But the lead wouldn't hold.

"In key, pressure situations, the good teams still make plays,'' said Giordano.

"No sense hanging our heads. No reason to hold back. I think you guys have seen, when we're at the top of our game we're pretty good."

Historically, only four teams in 182 tries have managed to pull themselves back from the abyss of a 3-0 deficit. Calgary's looking to bump that to five.

"That's on us,'' said Monahan. "We blew a 4-1 lead. That can't happen. It sucks.

"We've been on winning streaks this season. We've got to find a way here to keep our heads up and get our battle level up."

Elliott promised the Flames' resolve hadn't been crushed.

"I don't think there's any doubts. It's just a tough thing to do."

On Wednesday, they either start their bid to make history or are history.

"We'll get up in the morning,'' said coach Glen Gulutzan. "We're gonna go on our same routine, review the game. Look at the positives and there were a lot.

"Dust ourselves off, come back and make sure we're ready to play Game 4."

 

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