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WON DOWN!

Smith leads the way as the Flames dump the Avalanche in the opening game of their playoff series

by TY PILSON @typilson / CalgaryFlames.com

Huge saves: Check.

Timely goals: Check.

Powerplay execution: Check.

Lots … and lots … and lots of hits: Check.

It's a fairly simple recipe but often a tough one to mix up at this time of the year.

The Flames, though, had little trouble with it, as they dumped the Colorado Avalanche 4-0 Thursday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Game 1 of their first-round Western Conference playoff matchup.

It was the first time Calgary had hosted the opening game of a post-season series since 2005-06.

It was also the first time the two clubs had met in the playoff dance. 

After finishing the regular season atop the Western Conference, expectations were high and the C of Red - packing the building to the rafters - were loud from the get-go, breaking into a thundering chant of Go Flames Go before George Canyon had even stepped out on the ice to sing the National Anthem.

They sure weren't disappointed with what unfolded over the next three hours, Matthew Tkachuk scoring a pair (including an empty-netter), while Andrew Mangiapane and Mikael Backlund added singes and Mike Smith turned in an absolutely stellar performance between the pipes.

 

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First up the saves. 

Smith - who said this week he felt he played his best hockey of the season down the stretch - brought down chants of 'Smitty, Smitty, Smitty' all evening.

He turned aside 26 of the shots he faced. It was his fourth-career playoff shutout.

Oh, and he picked up an assist on that Tkachuk tally, just for good measure.

Not surprisingly, he was named the game's first star.

"Honestly, I haven't quite heard anything like that before in my career and it honestly gives you some confidence, obviously, when you're hearing your name get chanted," said Smith. "I haven't quite experienced what I experienced tonight in my 13 years in this league.

"I've been through a lot, but tonight was something I'll add to the list."

Among his many highlights on the night:

  • Early in the first period, he kicked out his left pad in tight to deny Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog.
     
  • Keep up the the theme of denying Gabriels, he later robbed Gabriel Bourque on another chance in tight.
     
  • In the second period, he made back-to-back glove saves that were worthy of a Golden Glove award: first snagging Landeskog's backhand attempt from the top of the blue paint before seconds later coming across his net to deny Derick Brassard's clapper from the top of the right faceoff circle.
     
  • In the third period with his side up 2-0 and the Avs on a powerplay, a Nathan MacKinnon shot hit the post and popped right out to Alex Kerfoot, leaving Smith just a fraction of a second to react and turn the quick shot aside. 
     
  • Later in the frame, after Backlund was denied on two golden opportunities at the other end of the ice, Smith again flashed the leather on a MacKinnon wrister on the rush.

"It starts with Smitty. He was unbelievable all night," said captain Mark Giordao. "Making great plays and I thought we had a lot of energy tonight, obviously with our crowd.

"But in the playoffs, it's important to win the special teams battle and I thought we were digging in when we had to."

 

Video: COL@CGY, Gm1: Smith denies Brassard with glove save

 

Then there were the goals.

Through nearly 35 minutes of play, the team's had exchanged a plethora of chances - the Flames with an edge in dangerous ones - but were deadlocked at zeros with 15 shots each.

Cue the Mangiapane Magic.

The rookie put on a clinic in effort and patience to open the scoring, digging the puck off the boards in a crowd and driving to the net - losing the handle on the puck at one point but kicking it back to his stick - and skating across the slot, waiting out Philipp Grubauer before sliding a backhand under the outstretched arm of the diving Avs goaltender.

"Unbelievable," said Tkachuk. "I honestly - some buildings are really loud in the NHL in the regular season, like really, really loud. And that was the loudest I've ever heard a building after that goal. And what a goal it was."

 

Video: COL@CGY, Gm1: Mangiapane scores beauty for Flames

 

With the crowd suitably whipped into a frenzy, the Flames then capitilized on a powerplay courtesy of a Patrik Nemeth hold on Garnet Hathaway that ended with the Flames forward taken down to the ice and driven into Grubauer.

Giordano - a leading candidate for the Norris Trophy after a season with 17 goals and 74 points, good for fifth in team scoring - snapped a wrister from the point that Tkachuk, parked in his office at the top of the blue paint, reached out wide to tip home.

"Just thanking the blade of my stick for getting me one," said Tkachuk. "First one in a while, so it felt nice."

The Avs challenged arguing goaltender interference but the officials upheld the call on the ice. 

Backlund - with his second career playoff goal - added another powerplay marker with 2:59 to play before Tkachuk would ice it with Grubauer pulled for the extra attacker.

 

Video: COL@CGY, Gm1: Tkachuk deflects in shot for PPG

 

Finally, the hits.

It wasn't just the usual suspects - Tkachuk, Giordano, Hathaway, Sam Bennett or Travis Hamonic - tossing their body around on a regular basis.

In fact, up-and-down the lineup they made sure to make their presence felt, dishing out 36 hits on the night.

For good measure, Hamonic dropped the mitts with Matt Calvert late in the tilt.

"Just the win itself feels awesome," said Tkachuk. "That's one under our belt. It feels really good. This the time of year where you want to play. There are 15 teams at home right now wishing they were in our position, so why not take advantage of it."

Now it's time to get ready for Game 2.

"Just rest and recover is what it's going to be all about tonight and tomorrow," said coach Bill Peters. "All those guys that got that first one out of the way, they should get some confidence.

"I thought they were a little tentative, at times, those guys that were a little new to what was going on. I think we'll get better as the series goes along."

 

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