Sports

In tight Flames-Stars series, Gaudreau is under pressure to bury limited chances


DALLAS – Blake Coleman has a prediction: his Flames are going to bounce back and Johnny Gaudreau will play a major role in it.

He may want to do it soon, as the Flames have dropped two in a row in a tight series with Dallas they now trail 2-1.

Gaudreau had a golden opportunity to turn things around late in Saturday’s 4-2 loss when he broke in alone with four minutes left in a one-goal game.

An attempt to go five-hole was thwarted by Jake Oettinger, prompting a blunt assessment from the coach:

“Got a breakaway with two or three minutes left, those guys got to put it away,” said Darryl Sutter. “That’s their job.”

Coleman was a tad more diplomatic.  

“He’s getting looks – that was just one of many chances we probably could have finished on,” said the Texan. “Things get magnified based on the time of the game. 

“Johnny is a great player. He was a great player all year. He’s going to bounce back. We have all the confidence in the world in his game and he’s going to be a big reason why our team bounces back next game.”

Critics raining down on Gaudreau early in these playoffs will easily gloss over the five shots on goal he had in the game and the sublime pass he made to set up Elias Lindholm early in the second period to put the Flames up 2-1.

He hasn’t been awful by any stretch.

But when time, space and chances are at a premium, it puts even more pressure on go-to players like him to make good on the few opportunities out there in a defensive battle like this.

They don’t get any better than the situation he found himself in after Tyler Toffoli spun to find Gaudreau alone at the blue line for a one-on-one with Oettinger he’d love to have back.

Gaudreau wasn’t the only one who might have had trouble sleeping afterward. Coleman’s homecoming didn’t exactly turn out as he dreamed it might.

In a game in which penalties continued to be a major storyline, there sat Coleman in the sin bin as Joe Pavelski scored the game-winner. The same Pavelski who scored earlier in the evening before selling the call on Coleman, who tapped the winger’s glove with 11 minutes left in a 2-2 game.

Sutter suggested afterwards the call was made because it was Pavelski.

“A penalty with (11) minutes left, you can’t take it,” said Coleman, who had 50 friends and family members in attendance at American Airlines Center.

“Being a ref is one of the most difficult jobs out there. I will say, if you’re going to call the ticky tacky stuff with (11) minutes left you better call the high sticks with a couple minutes left.  You’ve got to call it both ways, in my opinion, if you’re going to do it that way.

“Obviously a disappointing game, one I thought we let get away”

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Penalties continue to disrupt the Flames’ desire to roll four lines, taking away from their five-on-five play, which was their bread and butter all year. 

The Stars continue to frustrate and punish the Flames by out-hitting them 44-23, prompting plenty of post-whistle calls the Flames know they need to eliminate.

“Too many penalties, we’ve got to stay out of the box,” said Trevor Lewis, who tied the game 1-1 late in the first with a rebound over Oettinger the Stars thought came courtesy of goalie interference by Milan Lucic. (they lost the challenge). “The stuff after the whistles, we’ve got to cut that out.”

The coach agreed, as his club hasn’t fared well playing four on four either.

“It’s tight, there’s not a lot of room,” added Lewis, whose fourth line was deemed the team’s best forechecking unit by Sutter. “We’ve just got to dig down a little deeper and find out what we’re made of. And get those second and third efforts. We had chances to win the game for sure.

“I don’t think anyone thought it was going to be easy. We know we’ve got a great group in there and we’ve been doing it all year. We’ve just got to refocus and try to win the next game.”

While plenty of fans in Calgary are starting to wonder if this is yet another one of the franchise’s playoff faceplants in the making, Coleman said no one has lost faith in their room.

“Our group still feels really good, really confident in our ability,” said Coleman, whose club outshot Dallas 41-32, but went 0-for-4 on the power play.  “We win one game and we’ve got home ice back, and that’s the goal coming in here.

“There’s no panic in our room. We’ve got a lot of guys that have been there and been in these situations and it’s seven games for a reason.”





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