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Win against defending champion Golden Knights a good lesson for young Flames

Blake Coleman Jonathan Huberdeau Calgary Flames Blake Coleman Jonathan Huberdeau - The Canadian Press

In the midst of a trying season where the Calgary Flames dealt key roster pieces like forward Elias Lindholm, defencemen Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin, fans can take solace and perhaps even feel optimistic about a 13-second stretch midway through the third period of their 4-1 comeback win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights

Rookie netminder Dustin Wolf was tabbed to start in place of the injured Jacob Markstrom and stopped Golden Knights forward Ivan Barbashev on a breakaway at around the 10-minute mark of the third period.

A dozen seconds later, Blake Coleman finished off a Nazem Kadri end-to-end rush to give the Flames 2-1 lead. Coleman ended the night with another empty netter, while Matthew Coronato and Yegor Sharangovich also scored. Wolf had 28 saves.

“He kind of thread the needle between our D and I thought he probably made a few too many stickhandles and I just tried to stay on my feet and stick with him,” Wolf said of his save on Barbashev.

“That’s the game of hockey right? You get a save at one end and a goal at the other. It happens more often than you think. Pretty pivotal moment in the game. I was just trying to stay as dialed in as I could.”

“It was the turning point,” Flames head coach Ryan Huska said. 

“It was a bit of a tough change on our part. He bailed us out and for us to go right back down and score was the difference in the game.”

Coleman said the bench fed off Wolf’s stop. 

“They get a great look and the game maybe ends completely differently if Wolfie doesn’t make that save,” said the 32-year-old forward. 

“It never looked like [Barbashev] even had a chance. He stayed right with him and he looked very confident today. Sometimes when your goalie shows that level of confidence, it goes right through the group. We come right back down, Naz makes a great play, I go top corner, and we’re up 2-1.”

That Coleman was referring to a 22-year-old rookie goalie and not the 34-year-old Markstrom says plenty about where this Flames group is currently at. It is about development from now through the end of the regular season. 

Huska has alluded to focusing on the process more than the results. On Thursday, the Flames had a good process and got the result. It started with a leadership meeting about their previous three-game losing streak that saw them get outscored 18-5.

Beyond Wolf, the Flames were excellent on Thursday at backchecking, maintaining gaps in the defensive zone, and using active sticks to break up Golden Knights chances.

“For whatever reason, I think the trade deadline, travel, whatever it was, loomed heavy on the group,” Coleman said. 

“We were all pretty disappointed with how the last few games went. We’ve had some good look-in-the-mirror meetings here in the last 24 hours and I thought everybody to a man responded really well and all around it was a good team game.”

Huska has leaned plenty on a half dozen players, including Coleman and captain Mikael Backlund, to get his message across and maintain a culture where winning, despite the stacked odds against them, is expected night in and night out. 

“I was more than pleased with a group of six or seven of our players tonight, the older guys, that I felt really stepped up and they led tonight,” Huska said. He added that he could tell early on when his forwards were backchecking hard that the team would have a chance. 

“That’s what you want to keep seeing.”

For blueliner MacKenzie Weegar, who had a game-high 25:45 of icetime, leading a young team comes down to attitude. 

“It’s just the mood,” he said before the game.

“A lot of guys look at the older guys and see how their mood is. I thought maybe the last few games, our mood wasn’t there, our energy wasn’t there. I think the younger guys can feel that out.”

The post-game mood on Thursday was one of optimism. 

Coleman, so often tabbed to speak after tough losses, joked that he was happy to finally chat with reporters after a win. He even playfully embellished some of the details of his impressive evening. Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode”, part of the group’s victory playlist, bellowed from the workout room. The group was relaxed and happy knowing that, despite a decimated roster, they had defeated the reigning Stanley Cup champions. 

The belief and confidence gained on Thursday may ultimately benefit the Flames more than a victory in the standings because of the on- and off- ice process that went into it that the next generation of Flames like Wolf, Coronato, Connor Zary, Martin Pospisil, and others will learn from. 

“It was an embarrassing 72 hours for our team,” Coleman said.

“Our response to losing some guys and some friends maybe wasn’t the best. We got slapped pretty hard for not showing up and being our best. At the end of the day, if you’ve got pride and you get beat up like that, you’d better respond or you don’t really belong in this league.”