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Wolf rises to occasion as Flames ride out early surge, notch another comeback win

Dustin Wolf Calgary Flames Dustin Wolf - The Canadian Press

It was far from the cliche “full 60” but the Calgary Flames have yet another comeback victory after defeating the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 at the Saddledome on Thursday to pull within a game of .500 (11-12-3, 25 points) and within three points of the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

Calgary scored three times in the final period, with Blake Coleman potting the winner shorthanded. 

The Flames have trailed at even-strength more than any other team in the league in 2023-24, and that trend continued versus the Hurricanes. Calgary allowed the first two goals within the game’s opening 10 minutes, but the damage was limited beyond that thanks to their rookie goaltender.

Dustin Wolf, called up this week after Jacob Markstrom broke a finger in practice and forced into relief duty for backup Dan Vladar on Tuesday, got the nod and prevented the Hurricanes (14-11-1) from taking a stranglehold on the game after another rough start by the skaters. The 22-year-old ended the night with 28 saves on 30 shots (.933 save percentage) and while Carolina didn’t test him much after that opening 10 minutes, he looked composed and controlled rebounds well. Both goals he allowed were off screens.

“My objective the rest of the game was to challenge myself to fight through those [screens] even harder than I was,” he said.

“The D did a great job of boxing out the last two periods and made my life easier.”

“That’s what makes him a good goaltender,” head coach Ryan Huska said of Wolf moving on quickly.

“He’s got an unflappable swagger…whether he’s let five or six in, it doesn’t change him. If he lets one in, it doesn’t change him. If he lets another one in, it doesn’t change him. He obviously grew up the right way or learned some lessons early on as a goaltender in to how to turn the page and flush it if it goes by you because he does a really good job with that.”

Coleman has noticed that swagger as well. 

“Looking back on it, he’s the reason we were still only down by two,” he said.

“He’s got a lot of confidence. He didn’t seem shaken by it. The moment wasn’t big for him. He believes in himself and we believe in him back there. There’s not much he can do on the goals. Tips are challenging for any goalie in this league and you can’t fault him for that. It’s more on him to get the blocks under sticks. Aside from that, he was perfect tonight.”

The Flames are now tied for the most third-period comeback wins in the league with four. The players were lighthearted and poked fun at the stat and how they’ve won despite their starts.

“Flames recipe right there,” Coleman said.

“Another fantastic first period,” defenceman Rasmus Andersson added.

With those slow starts, however, has come a confidence the group simply didn’t have a season ago. 

The Flames already have more comeback wins than they did in 2022-23 and are fifth in the league with a plus-nine goal differential in the third period. 

They know they can hang in there with good teams and change momentum later in games against good teams like the Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Dallas Stars. It’s a formula they’d like to rely on less often, but one that’s given them a belief that will certainly pay dividends later in the season when games get tighter and margins get smaller. 

“There’s no doubt in our minds that’s gonna flip at some point,” Coleman said of the starts.

“It’s not the way you want to do it every time, but it seems to be our thing…to know you have that ability to come back in games late in the year is important because last year, we didn’t have that ability. If we can figure out the ways to get ahead of teams and hold on to leads, there’s only two ways you have to win in this league.

And we’ve got one of them down.”