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Flames' lack of scoring from top line led to playoff elimination

Struggles of Gaudreau, Monahan, Lindholm among reasons for five-game loss to Avalanche

by Aaron Vickers / NHL.com Correspondent

The Calgary Flames' hopes of making a long run in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs ended with a five-game loss to the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference First Round.

The Flames came into the best-of-7 series after their best regular season (50-25-7) since 1988-89, when they won their only Stanley Cup championship. Calgary won the Pacific Division and finished first in the Western Conference; Colorado was the second wild card in the West and had the fewest points of any team in the playoffs.

"Everybody that makes it in is an NHL playoff team and they deserve to be in there," Calgary goalie Mike Smith said. "It's a hard season to get into the playoffs. It's so competitive. Once you're in there anything can happen.

"I didn't think we played our best consistently throughout this series, and you have to do your best if you want to move on. You can't move on just being average."

Video: Lightning, Flames eliminated from playoffs early

Here are 5 reasons the Flames were eliminated:

 

1. Best players weren't their best players

Calgary's top line of Johnny Gaudreau (one assist), Sean Monahan (one goal, one assist) and Elias Lindholm (one goal, one assist) combined for five points against Colorado after scoring 259 (97 goals, 162 assists) during the regular season. 

After Lindholm skated primarily with Gaudreau and Monahan in Games 1-4, the Flames moved Sam Bennett to the top line and placed Lindholm on a line with Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk. That wasn't enough to prolong the series.

"Got to be better, obviously," Monahan said. "We've got to produce. The top guys have to be your top guys, especially in the postseason. We didn't do that."

 

2. Couldn't shut down Colorado's top players

Colorado's top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog combined for 261 points (106 goals, 155 assists) in the regular season. That production didn't stop in the first round, when they had 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists). 

Flames forwards combined for 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists). 

"Obviously we had high expectations for ourselves," Gaudreau said. "We had a great regular season. Kind of played a little flat-footed there in a couple games and now the season is over." 

 

3. Wasted goaltending

The biggest question surrounding the Flames entering the playoffs was their goaltending. But Smith, whose .898 save percentage ranked 53rd among NHL goalies with at least 20 regular-season games played, was Calgary's best player. His 188 saves lead playoff goalies and he had a .917 save percentage despite giving up five goals in Game 5. 

"We had a good team here, and we didn't show that here through the five games," Monahan said. "That cost us. [Smith] played great, kept us in. They played better than us and that's why the result's what it is."

 

4. Slow starts

The Flames scored one first-period goal in the five games and were 0-3 when the Avalanche scored first. Calgary was tied with the St. Louis Blues for eighth with 83 goals scored in the first period and was an NHL-best 36-4-1 (.878 winning percentage) when scoring first during the regular season.

"We couldn't execute properly," defenseman Mark Giordano said. "We couldn't score. We couldn't make the big plays at the big times. We were doing it all year. It was tough. It's going to be a long summer, that's for sure. It's going to be a tough one to swallow."

 

5. Inability to finish

The Flames held a 2-1 lead late in Game 2 before surrendering a game-tying goal by J.T. Compher with 2:39 remaining in the third period. MacKinnon won the game for the Avalanche with a goal 8:27 into overtime.

Calgary led 2-0 in the third period of Game 4, but Compher cut the lead to 2-1 at 8:10 and Rantanen scored to tie it 2-2 with 2:50 left. Rantanen won the game for Colorado 10:23 into overtime.

"We didn't play the way we played throughout the year," Gaudreau said. "I think a couple games, those OT games, we had the lead in both games and they found a way to tie it and win in OT. We've got to find a way to win those games."

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