At times during Sunday's winner-take-all Game 7, it felt like the Calgary Flames would never again solve Jake Oettinger.
The Dallas Stars goalie, who asserted himself to the hockey world during this series as perhaps the National Hockey League’s future perennial Vezina Trophy contender, stymied the Flames through the game’s opening sixty minutes, only surrendering goals on a Tyler Toffoli tip-in and a Matthew Tkachuk power-play goal.
The Flames fired over 130 shots his way. He stopped 65 of 67 that made their way through Dallas’ stingy defence. Then Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau had the puck at the side of the net and fired a perfect shot over Oettinger’s left shoulder, sending the Saddledome into a frenzy after the 3-2 Game 7 overtime victory.
“It was awesome,” Gaudreau said. “It was a tight series this whole week or two and it came right down to the end there in Game 7 overtime. You dream of stuff like that, scoring in Game 7 in overtime. Nice play by [Tkachuk] behind the net, found [Lindholm] in the front, and I got the rebound…I was just trying to put it on net.”
“I was actually ducking because I knew if he missed, I was right in the line of fire,” Tkachuk said.
During the seven game series, Gaudreau fired 25 shots on Oettinger, including a chance in the slot moments before his game winner. Previously, Gaudreau admitted he felt Oettinger had his number.
“That kid played pretty well throughout the whole series,” Gaudreau said.
Despite Oettinger’s play, the Flames controlled the game in almost every way on Sunday. They had more than double the shot attempts as the Stars. Calgary out hit them 35 to 22 and won 55 per cent of the faceoffs. Despite dominating on paper, it was not an easy few days.
“That was a hard series to win,” Tkachuk said.
“We deserved to win,” head coach Darryl Sutter said.
The road to their first playoff series victory since 2015 was not easy for the Flames, and Oettinger was the biggest reason why. His 0.954 save percentage was the best of any starting goalie in the playoffs, while his 1.81 goals-against average was fourth. On Sunday, he became just the second goalie to record 60+ saves in a Game 7.
Sutter called him the best player of the series. For his part, the third-year goalie was emotional afterwards.
“It seems like every year flies by and it never ends when you want to unless you win the Cup,” Oettinger said. “This one’s going to hurt for a long time.”
Oettinger plans to use it as fuel.
"I’ve never been more motivated than I am right now,” Oettinger said. “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that I get this opportunity again and I’ll make sure I’m on the other side of it the next time."
Sutter has now coached in 11 Game 7s, the most in NHL history. He has won eight of them, also the most ever. The series victory over Dallas was another example of the culture change and process shift he has implemented since taking the coaching reigns in March 2021.
“I’ve said it all along, this is a team that had to get a foundation in place and stick with it,” Sutter said. “There’s highs and lows during a game and there’s highs and lows during a season and we’re a pretty even-keel group.”
“The way we battled back in the series,” Gaudreau said, when asked what the group should be the most proud of. "We did that in the series a couple of times and not only in this series but in games, we were down a few times and found a way to battle back and win games. That’s what we’re proud of.”
As for what Sutter is like in the dressing room after a Game 7 overtime win?
“He was just telling us he would let us know when the next round is,” Gaudreau said.
That has been confirmed by the league for 7:30 pm MST on Wednesday as the Flames and Oilers face each other in the playoffs for the first time since 1991.
“It’ll be exciting,” Tkachuk said. “It’ll be great for Alberta.”
“I’ve been here for nine years and never had a sniff of them in the playoffs, so it’s pretty special,” Gaudreau said. “I think it’s going to be a lot of fun and good for the province…it’s going to be a pretty cool series.”