EDMONTON – The Calgary Flames had a chance to pour gasoline on a tire fire.
Instead, the spark they provided the Edmonton Oilers may wind up being the turning point on their rival’s season.
Up 2-0 after the first period at Rogers Place, the Flames did the one thing they knew they couldn’t against a team with the two best players in the world: give them the man advantage.
They did it twice in a four-minute span, allowing Evan Bouchard to score on a pair of carbon-copy point shots through traffic.
Suddenly the losers of seven in row, who had been badly outplayed to that point, had a flicker of hope.
“It’s one of those things, they get life on the power play and they get themselves back in it,” said first-period goal scorer Milan Lucic, whose club ultimately gave up two Leon Draisaitl goals in the third to lose 5-3. “We deserve better than the result we got.
“It’s very disappointing. We did a lot of things right. We came out with a good start and created a lot of chances. Even in the third we spent the majority of time in the o-zone and only gave up 4 shots. It’s disappointing with the effort we gave and how well we played.”
An obvious and unnecessary cross check by Oliver Kylington led to the first goal and a somewhat more questionable holding call on Elias Lindholm led to the second.
Predictably deadly, both, allowing Connor McDavid to snap a career-high point slump of three games.
From there, the show was stolen by the last man on earth anyone would have predicted to be the game’s hero: Mikko Koskinen.
“For whoever that was complaining about Oilers goaltending, he kept them in the game, that’s for sure,” said Darryl Sutter, whose club threw 47 shots at a netminder who has taken endless heat for the team’s slide all month. “We had lots of opportunities to go up, or change the momentum lots of times, but we just couldn’t put it in.
“We did what we wanted. We have to finish opportunities and with those big guys, you make one little mistake and they’re going to come.
“Penalties, you just can’t take em. They’re at 30 per cent, they score one in three. That’s how it works.”
The Flames tied the game 3-3 late in the third with a soft Noah Hanifin wrister from the point that marked the only mistake from an Oilers goalie who saved his most spectacular of 44 saves for the third period.
Early on in a final frame that saw him stop 17 shots, one of his seven saves on Gaudreau was followed by a stop on a Matthew Tkachuk between-the-leg-jobby.
The save of the night came with 10 minutes left in a tied game, when a Sean Monahan saucer pass to Dillon Dube seemed destined for the twine before a sprawling Koskinen somehow came up with a glove/pad snare that brought the half-packed arena to its feet.
Koskinen said afterwards it was his “top save in the NHL.”
It might actually be instrumental in saving his job for a while longer, as many believe a loss to the Flames would have prompted a move of great significance from GM Ken Holland.
“Ya, he’s been getting a lot of heat the last little bit here, Koskinen,” said Lucic, one of four Flames to get four or more shots on him.
“I’m sure he was the first star of the game. He should have been, he came up big for them, especially in the third period and got them the win.”
“It’s pretty obvious, with things going on over there, he needed to have a good game and he met the challenge,” he said.
“A lot of it is on us too. We found a way to get a lot of shots on him but we have to find a way to put some in. I had one in the beginning of the third that has to go in. It could be a different game if that goes.”
Five minutes after the save on Dube, Draisaitl drove wide right around Hanifin, cut across the crease and outwaited Jacob Markstrom before lifting it over him for the winner.
Draisaitl’s empty netter sealed the deal with his fourth point of the evening.
Massive opportunity lost for a Flames team that has lost nine of its last 12.
“I didn’t feel like we took a step backward, but, no, we didn’t get any points so I don’t feel we took a step forward.” said Sutter.