May 12, 2022
Flames leaning on locker room leadership in pivotal moments
Calgary’s culture reinvention was on full display as the Flames came back in the third period to take Game 5 against Dallas, Salim Valji writes.
By Salim Valji
The Calgary Flames continued to be frustrated and stymied through the first 40 minutes in Game 5 of their series versus the Dallas Stars.
The Stars have had sound defensive structure throughout the series, and the Flames had beaten goalie Jake Oettinger just six times. Flames forwards, typically used to controlling the offensive zone for minutes at a time, were getting boxed out by Stars blueliners and unable to get to the slot.
Trailing 1-0 at home in a pivotal game, Calgary’s leaders spoke up during the second intermission.
“A lot of guys stepped up and talked in the room,” Mikael Backlund, who scored the tying goal, said. “The message was clear. We put the period behind us and go out and play our game, play the way we can, believe, just get back to our game and check for chances. That’s when we’re at our best and that’s what we did in the third.”
The Flames took the words to heart and gradually took the game over in the third period. Backlund’s line with Andrew Mangiapane and Blake Coleman was particularly effective at controlling play, scoring both the tying and winning goals and combining for five points. Backlund and Mangiapane were named the game’s first and second stars.
The Flames have tinkered with the depth of their roster over the past nine months, prioritizing grit and depth over flash. They also emphasized leadership qualities and Stanley Cup pedigree, bringing in Coleman, Trevor Lewis, Tyler Toffoli, and Brad Richardson.
That culture reinvention, which started with the 2020 signings of Jacob Markstrom and Chris Tanev, is a big reason why the Flames surprised so many in the hockey world in winning the Pacific Division this season. It was also on full display as the Flames came back in the third period to take Game 5.
“You make the playoffs because you have some [leadership],” Calgary head coach Darryl Sutter said. “Half the teams do. It’s not like there’s some brilliant moment that falls out of the sky and that’s going to make the difference in the game.”
Just as Maple Leafs players weren’t willing to divulge exactly what veteran Jason Spezza said to them during the second intermission of Game 5 versus Tampa Bay that spurred the team to victory, the Flames were not keen on sharing specifics of their second intermission either.
“That wouldn’t be something that has to be talked about,” Sutter said.
Coleman did elaborate more though.
“There were a few things said,” he said. “I don’t want to get too much into detail, but it’s that time of year where when you have a really good team like we do, you don’t want to let opportunities like this slip by. I feel like our group is a special group and sometimes you just need that reminder that chances like this don’t happen every year or every day. So, you’ve got to be willing to pay the price to create those lifelong memories because these are the games that you remember.”
For Tanev, the second intermission was more so about the moments between the speeches.
“There was a lot of silence,” he said. “Everyone knows what we needed to do. Everyone focused in and buckled down. Obviously, a few words were said, but we know the goal. The goal is to win the game. We’re down 1-0 going into the third, so guys came out with a lot more energy than we had in the first two periods.”
Sutter has said often that his Cup-winning teams in Los Angeles had leadership by committee and “several captains.” He did not name a captain for the Flames this season, instead reiterating that Calgary had several leaders who lead in different fashions.
The second intermission of Game 5 was the latest example of the team’s collective leadership and culture shift proving itself when it matters most.
“So far it’s been a team effort in the room,” Backlund said. “A lot of guys are stepping up, making their voices heard, pushing guys. That’s been done all year. It hasn’t been one guy. It’s been a lot of guys in the room. I think that’s a big factor in our success.”