Flames' special teams shine in win over Panthers
CALGARY — Excellent goaltending and an opportunistic penalty kill were the formula for success for the Calgary Flames on Monday night.
Tied 1-1 in the third, it was shortly after failing to take advantage of a power play that the Flames scored while down a man.
Attempting to enter the Flames zone on the man advantage, Sam Reinhart turned the puck over to Noah Hanifin, who sprung Backlund on a breakaway. With Reinhart chasing him, Backlund went to his backhand and lifted a high shot over Anthony Stolarz.
“Hanny made a really good read, really good play, and then I saw a chance to go and he made a really nice pass and I took off,” said Backlund, who followed it up with an impassioned celebration.
“Tight game, you get to score the 2-1 goal, it always feels really good.”
Reinhart said the turnover was a mistake that can't happen.
"Our power play's got to be better. I've got to be better coming through the neutral zone,” he said. “It's unfortunate with the way it happened. It's a tight one and a lot of times it's a turnover, it's a mistake like that and the other team capitalizes."
Florida got a great chance to pull even with 2:13 left in the third period when Backlund was sent off for delay of game after flipping the puck into the crowd.
But on the power play again, and with the goalie pulled to make it 6-on-4, Blake Coleman jumped on a loose puck and took off on a breakaway and was hauled down by Brandon Montour from behind. He was awarded a goal giving Calgary eight short-handed tallies on the season, tying them with St. Louis for the league lead.
“We've got some players who can skate well and if there's a chance, we talk about we don't cheat for chances, but if the play is there, we go for it,” said Backlund. “If we can find a way to score some big goals, that's big for the team.”
It's been a bright spot for the team compared to the struggling power play, which ranks near the bottom of the league with just 11 goals — only Philadelphia (10), Washington (8) and St. Louis (8) have scored fewer.
Over the last six weeks dating back to Nov. 7, Calgary has more short-handed goals (6) than power-play goals (4).
“There's a fine line between cheating and making smart plays and for the most part, they've made smart decisions as to when to try to generate offence,” said Flames coach Ryan Huska.
Markstrom was excellent in his return from a seven-game absence due to a fractured finger. He improves to 7-8-2 on the season.
“Big win for us and it was nice to be back in there,” said Markstrom, who is 6-2-1 in his last nine.
His 11 third period saves included a flurry down the stretch as the Panthers pressed.
“When he's fresh, he's really good, and I feel like he's been that way for almost every game he's played for us this year,” said Huska. “He's a fighter. I think when a game's on the line like that, that's when he plays his best.”
Calgary helped out its veteran goalie with 28 blocked shots including a game-high 10 from Chris Tanev, which is a career high and the most in a game by anyone in the NHL this season.
“That's nothing new for today's game, it's been like that all year and it's inspiring and it gets you going, for sure,” Markstrom said.
Rookie Martin Pospisil also scored for Calgary (13-14-5). The Flames have recorded points in their last four (2-0-2) outings.
Reinhart scored for Florida (18-11-2). The Panthers wrapped up their five-game road trip with a 2-3-0 record.
"It's a long road trip. We played some good games and played some tough defensive teams that don't give a lot,” said Panthers defenceman Dmitry Kulikov, who played in career game No. 900.
“Offensively, I think hopefully we grew as a team on this road trip, find out what it takes to win against good teams. Moving forward we'll take it with us."
In net for Florida, Stolarz made 21 stops. He's 4-3-1.
Calgary struck first at 8:45 of the first period when Nazem Kadri's pass sent Pospisil in on a partial break and he flung a rising backhand past Stolarz.
Reinhart tied it with 31 seconds left in the first, knocking in a rebound on a power play. It was their only goal on five chances with the man advantage.
“Tight games on the road. You're looking for your power play to be the difference and tonight it struggled a little bit," said Panthers coach Paul Maurice.
Reinhart has been rolling of late with 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in his last 11 games.
Jonathan Huberdeau was held off the scoresheet again, extending his career-worst pointless drought to nine games. The Flames highest-paid player has 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 32 games in the first year of an eight-year, US$84 million deal.
The blue lines of both teams got a boost with the return of key players. The Flames welcomed back Tanev (upper body) after missing three games. Florida got Aaron Ekblad (lower body) back after he missed Saturday's win in Edmonton.
Panthers: Return home to host the St. Louis Blues on Thursday.
Flames: Open a two-game road trip in California on Thursday against the Anaheim Ducks.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 18, 2023.