In a must-win Game 4 at the American Airlines Centre, the Calgary Flames’ best players were their best players as the Flames dominated the Stars and tied their series at two games apiece.
Johnny Gaudreau turned in a fine performance. The star winger clearly was haunted by a breakaway late in Game 3 two nights earlier that could have tied the game. He went blocker side on Jake Oettinger and was denied. Two nights later and again partway through the third period, he was hooked by Stars blueliner John Klingberg and awarded a penalty shot. This time, Gaudreau deked out Oettinger to give the Flames their first two-goal lead of the playoffs.
“I had some good looks there throughout the night and he’s made some big saves on me,” Gaudreau said.
“I was a tad nervous to be honest with you. I felt like he had my number tonight. I had three or four really good opportunities tonight to put the puck in the net. It was nice to find the net there.”
Gaudreau was not the only one who was nervous.
“Nervous, no, but we know how skilled Johnny is,” Andersson joked.
“It was really nice to see him put it in the net and go up 2-0…then we just beared down in the end.”
“He’s good on breakaways,” head coach Darryl Sutter said after the game.
Gaudreau and linemates Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk combined for four points and as a team, Calgary fired 53 shots on Oettinger. The turning point of the game (and potentially the series) was a five-minute stretch in the second period where Calgary pinned Dallas in its own end for over three minutes and fired nine shots in that stretch. At its five-on-five best, Calgary dominates possession in the offensive zone, activates their defencemen while forwards cover for them, cycles, wins board battles, and dominates the shot clock. Throughout Game 4, the Flames did exactly that, pinning the Stars in their defensive zone while asserting their identity on them. Their 54 shots on goal was the third most in a playoff game in franchise history.
“I think we had a lot of long shifts in their zone,” Andersson said.
“We got to play five-on-five, and that’s where we’re a really good team.”
“We were on the wrong side of them too many times in all three zones,” Stars head coach Rick Bowness said.
“ We were very slow to close on them in the defensive zone, which is why they were able to cycle the puck as much. It started with the first shift where our forward got caught on the wrong side and we didn’t close quick enough in our zone.”
Bowness admitted that his top goal scorer during the regular season has not found his game during the playoffs.
“We’re trying to free up [Jason Robertson],” He said.
“He’s struggling. We tried to free him up a little bit and see if we could get something going offensively. We got some really good shifts. If, in those first five minutes we could have scored, that would have turned that whole period around. We had some looks but we didn’t score.”
“I’m still trying to find spots and get shots, but I’ve got to do more for myself,” Robertson said.
Darryl Sutter has constantly said that this Calgary Flames team needs to learn how to have success in the playoffs. Game 4 could go a long ways in what the players learn.
“We won the game, so I think we learned how hard it is to win.”
SPARKS OFF THE FIRE
-Sutter dressed seven defencemen and eleven forwards in Game 4. He said the reason dates back to the first game of the series: “I thought our defence looked tired the last couple games. I think it goes back to Game 1 when Rasmus [Andersson] played eight minutes and some guys played more than they normally do, and I think it trickled into our game the last couple.”
-Sutter was perhaps not joking when, mockingly after the morning skate, he said that the lines were a “fluid situation that is evolving as the day goes along.” The Flames had several different line combos. Tyler Toffoli played with Trevor Lewis and Mikael Backlund, Elias Lindholm centred a trio with Toffoli and Dillon Dube, while Andrew Mangiapane played with Blake Coleman and Calle Jarnkrok, and on a separate trio with Coleman and Backlund.
-Mangiapane played the lowest among all Flames forwards at 10:40
-Michael Stone led all skaters with eight shots on goal in just over 10 minutes of ice time.
-Joe Pavelski did not score, but was out early at practice on Monday morning working on his tips.
Pavelski went 7-2 in the face-off dot in Game 4.
-Interesting contrasts in bench management in Game 4: Calgary’s leader in ice time, Elias Lindholm, played 21:47 while Stone had the fewest minutes at 10:12 of ice time. For Dallas, Miro Heiskanen played 27:01 to lead all Stars skaters, and Joel Kiviranta played 5:53. The Flames clearly emphasized spreading minutes more.