By Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press
CALGARY – The Calgary Flames still control their playoff series after whiffing on a first swing to win it. They want to end it on the next pitch.
Up three games to two in the best-of-seven series against the Vancouver Canucks, there is urgency to close out at home in Saturday’s Game 6 and not return to Vancouver for a risky Game 7 on Monday.
After splitting the first two games of the series in Vancouver and winning back-to-back games at home, the Flames dropped a 2-1 decision in Game 5 at Rogers Arena on Thursday. Winners of four straight at home, the Flames can still advance to the second round for the first time since 2004 and do it at the Scotiabank Saddledome to boot on Saturday.
Calgary successfully rehearsed a similar scenario to end the regular season. Needing to win their last home game against the Los Angeles Kings or their regular-season finale in Winnipeg to make the playoffs for the first time in six years, the Flames got it done with the first option.
“We had to win one out of two and we took care of business,” Flames head coach Bob Hartley said. “We took care of the defending Stanley Cup champions right in our barn in front of our fans and we did it.
“Tomorrow, it’s exactly the same challenge and we believe in ourselves. I like our players’ demeanour.”
Calgary didn’t get a lot of shots on net or traffic in front of Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller in his first start of the post-season Thursday. Miller had played just five periods of hockey in two months because of a knee injury that moved Eddie Lack into the starter’s role.
Miller faced 21 shots compared to 43 on Calgary counterpart Jones Hiller. It was the sixth time the Flames, who led the NHL in blocked shots, allowed over 40 shots this season.
“He plays a little more active game, a little more reactive in the net, whereas Eddie is a little calmer, but I don’t think we challenged him enough last night by driving the net and getting in front of him,” Hiller said. “They blocked a lot of shots that didn’t make it to the net.
“If you want to score in this league, it’s not always going to be pretty. You have to work for it, put pucks on net and drive the net and I think we were a little too cute last night.”
Under scrutiny for their lack of production earlier in the series, assistant captain Daniel Sedin scoring the game winner on an assist from brother and captain Henrik is an emotional lift for the Canucks heading into Game 6.
Calgary’s top line of Sean Monahan and wingers Jiri Hudler and Johnny Gaudreau were held off the scoresheet and managed a combined three shots on net Thursday. Each had scored a power-play goal during the home end of the series for their first of the post-season.
“We’ve got to be the guys that kind of take charge and step up so it’s going to be a big test for us and we’re looking forward to that,” Monahan said. “We’ve got to shoot more. We’ve been trying to pass the puck too much.”
Potential second-round opponent Anaheim Ducks resting comfortably after their sweep of the Winnipeg Jets is another reason the Flames need a win Saturday.
In the absence of injured captain Mark Giordano (torn biceps), defencemen T.J. Brodie, Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman have logged in the range of 25-30 minutes per game for the last six weeks.
“Our guys are well-conditioned. We don’t draft our players from a nursing home,” Hartley said. “I think our conditioning has paid off and it’s still paying off.”
Flames centre Mikael Backlund was quoted as saying “there’s no way we’re losing at home” following Thursday’s loss.
“That’s the mindset we’ve got to have,” he said Friday. “I didn’t guarantee anything. There’s no guarantees in life so why would I guarantee something?
“We’re just going (to) enjoy tomorrow and come out flying. At the start of the series, if we knew we were going to come back home three-two, we would take it. Even though we lost yesterday, we’re all feeling good about ourselves.”