Saturday, May 02, 2015

The Holy Grail: Flames Down 1-0 to the Ducks but Not Dead Yet

It's a classic bit from The Holy Grail that Monty Python fans will know by heart and it nicely sums up where we're at with this Calgary Flames hockey club headed into Sunday's game 2 in Anaheim.

After a 6-1 beat-down on Thursday in which they were out-everythinged by a faster, stronger and deeper Ducks team, many are convinced this is finally the end for Calgary.

However, just like the previous six times this season when the Flames were left for dead -- only to spark back to life, it would be naive to expect anything different to happen this time.

In the scene, a cart with bodies piled on it is being pulled through the muddy roads of a village. As the cart-master (Eric Idle) shouts, "Bring out your dead", the bodies of deceased family members are hauled out of houses and tossed on the cart.

Man: Here's one.
Cart-master: Ninepence.
Old Man: I'm not dead!
Cart-master: What?
Man: Nothing! Here's your ninepence.
Old Man: I'm not dead!
Cart-master: Here! He says he's not dead!
Man: Yes he is.
Old Man: I'm not!
Cart-master: He isn't?
Man: Well, he will be soon. He's very ill.
Old Man: I'm getting better!
Man: No you're not, you'll be stone dead in a moment.
Cart-master: I can't take him like that! It's against regulations!
Old Man: I don't want to go on the cart.
Man: Oh, don't be such a baby.
Cart-master: I can't take him.
Old Man: I feel fine!
Man: Well, do us a favor.
Cart-master: I can't!
Man: Can you hang around a couple of minutes? He won't be long.
Cart-master: No, gotta get to the Robinsons, they lost nine today.
Man: Well, when's your next round?
Cart-master: Thursday.
Old Man: I think I'll go for a walk.
Man: You're not fooling anyone, you know. (to Cart-master) Look, isn't there something you can do?
(they both look around)
Old Man: I feel happy!  I feel happy!
(the Cart-master whacks the old man on the head with his wooden spoon. The old man goes limp.)
Man: Ah, thanks very much.
Cart-master: Not at all. See you on Thursday!

Those two minutes perfectly captures how the Flames season has gone to this point. Every time you think they're dead, it turns out they're not. It's this stubborn never-quit mentality that has got them this far and we're sure to see that from them again.

Dead for the 1st Time - Game No. 1, 4-2 loss to Vancouver

With a long and difficult six-game road trip looming, including a trip to some of the toughest buildings in the Central Division, the season begins predictably bad for a Calgary team expected by many to be in the chase for Connor McDavid. The Flames are outshot 33-25 and lose 4-2 to the Vancouver Canucks at the Saddledome. Already the whispers begin about how many games it will take before the Flames pick up their first win. Six? Nine? More? 

I'm Not Dead Yet - Playing the next night in Edmonton in the Oilers season-opener, Calgary wins 5-2. After a loss in St. Louis, the Flames win both ends of back-to-back stops in Nashville and Chicago. After losing a one-goal game in Columbus, they go into the difficult MTS Centre and wrap up the trip with a 4-1 win over the Jets with Johnny Gaudreau notching his first of the year.

Dead for the 2nd Time - Game No. 11, 2-1 loss to Montreal

After returning home and feeling good from the road-trip, Calgary wins just once in the first four games of a five-game home-stand. While they outplay the Canadiens, outshooting them 38-19, the shootout loss is deflating. Now they have red-hot Nashville (6-1-2) coming in on Halloween night and a five-game road trip on the docket after that. It was a nice start but time for reality to set in now. 

I'm Not Dead Yet - Trailing 2-1 headed to the third period, Calgary scores three unanswered goals in a four-minute span and ends up winning 4-3 over the Predators. It was the Flames first third period comeback of the season and little did we know would foreshadow one of the most compelling storylines for Calgary all season. Back out on the road, Calgary again finishes above .500 on the long trip picking up three wins.

Dead for the 3rd Time - Game No. 34, 2-1 loss to Dallas

Less than one week away from Christmas, there was certainly no joy in Whoville. A 2-1 loss on home ice to the Dallas Stars makes it three straight defeats at the Saddledome and seven regulation time losses in a row overall. Not a single point picked up in the last two weeks despite games against the Toronto Maple Leafs and lowly Buffalo Sabres during that span. The death spiral had finally arrived.

I'm Getting Better - Calgary had two games to go before Christmas with the first at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. It looked like same old, same old, as Vancouver led 2-0 less than 10 minutes in. However, David Jones scores the only goal of the second period and Gaudreau ties it in the third. Vancouver wins it in overtime but at least it's a point. It's a start. Two nights later, Calgary storms back from a 3-0 deficit in Los Angeles on a natural hat-trick from Gaudreau then stuns the Staples Center crowd getting a dramatic goal from Mark Giordano in overtime. Going into the four day Christmas break on a high, the Flames win pick up where they left off right after by winning their next three to close out the calendar year on a four-game winning streak.

Dead for the 4th Time - Game No. 42, 6-5 loss to Florida

The good feelings from Christmas are long gone now. Regulation losses on home ice to the New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings are followed up by an ugly 6-5 setback to Florida. Reeling from three straight home-ice defeats and with Karri Ramo hurt and Jonas Hiller coming off a brutal performance against the Panthers, the Flames charter to Vancouver to play the next night against the Canucks as they begin a harrowing five-game Pacific road trip.

I Don't Want to Go on the Cart - It wasn't the plan but it became the plan after Friday night. Joni Ortio gets the tap from Bob Hartley to start Saturday and in his season debut, the rookie Finn is outstanding making 36 saves in a 1-0 Flames victory. Ortio ends up staying in the net and reeling off victories in Arizona, San Jose and Los Angeles before his luck ran out -- as it goes always and for everybody -- at Honda Center against the Ducks. Nonetheless, the 4-1-0 road trip gets momentum turned back around again.

Dead for the 5th Time - Game No. 61, 3-1 win in New Jersey

It wasn't the outcome on the scoreboard that mattered on this night, it was the loss of Flames captain Mark Giordano, who goes down awkwardly in the final minute of the game. At the time, he led NHL defencemen in scoring and was the leading candidate for the Norris Trophy. When worst fears were confirmed that he'd be lost for the season with a torn biceps tendon, this was surely the end but hey, keep the heads high. Making it three-quarters of the way through the season and still being in a playoff race was longer than anyone predicted but after this night, already sitting outside of the wild card spot, this would surely be the proverbial nail in the coffin.

I Feel Fine - Giordano out, Corey Potter in. Sure, that's going to get it done. The first game without Calgary's Mr. Everything ends predictably, a 2-1 loss in Long Island. Start working on the eulogy. But wait, not so fast. Digging deep and with Deryk Engelland elevated into a role no one saw coming and most fans feared -- a top four spot, and with Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman as the new top pairing, Calgary goes into Philadelphia and wins 3-2. They go into Boston and win 4-3 on 'The Schlemko'. On the back-end of games in consecutive night, they then go to Joe Louis Arena in Detroit and after falling behind 2-0, score five unanswered to win 5-2. They wrap up a road trip with a shootout loss and a bonus point in Ottawa despite trailing 4-0 in the third period. The masses were stunned. What did we just see happen?

Dead for the 6th Time - Game No. 75, 4-2 loss in Minnesota

Nobody in the playoff chase in the West is losing on the out-of-town scoreboard so you can't afford to give up points and Calgary just did, salvaging just one of four points in two important games  -- a shootout loss at home to Dallas two nights earlier is followed up by a 4-2 loss in Minnesota. The loss to the Wild came as the Flames began a critical Central Division-heavy five-game road swing and a brutal one at that with the next three stops in Nashville, in Dallas on the back-end of back-to-backs, and then in St. Louis. Plus, Calgary is on the outside already, three points in arrears of the second wild card spot and one point behind the surging Los Angeles Kings in the Pacific

I Think I'll Go for a Walk - Not so fast, it seems. Calgary is very much still alive. After falling behind 1-0, they storm back to win 5-2 in Nashville. After falling behind 2-1 in Dallas, they rally back with three unanswered goals in the second en route to a 5-3 win. That earns them the split they absolutely needed to have in those first four games and a 4-0 win in Edmonton to wrap up the trip keeps them one point up on the Kings with one week to go.

Dead for the 7th Time - Round 2, Game 1, 6-1 loss in Anaheim

Now they're finally done, right? Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry look like they will be way too much to handle for Calgary's tired defence. The Ducks are completely healthy. The Flames are not even close -- Giordano is out, Lance Bouma is out, Paul Byron is out, Ladislav Smid is out. Leaving game one early due to injury were Micheal Ferland and Jiri Hudler. The first game of the second round series looked like men against the boys.  

I Feel Happy - A lot of bad things happened on Thursday night yet Calgary is still down only 1-0. The best they would have been hoping for in the opening two games was a split and that's very much still on the table as they get an extra day off between games to regroup. Of the four teams that lost game one, the Flames are better off than Montreal and the New York Rangers as at least their loss came on the road. They always say you're never in trouble in a series until you lose a game on home ice.

Closing Thoughts

The Flames are a long-shot to win this series. They don't have nearly the depth that Anaheim has up and down the line-up and Getzlaf and Perry are arguably the most dangerous duo in the NHL. But anyone expecting Calgary to just roll over and play dead now hasn't been paying very close attention.

You know Calgary will be better in game two. While Anaheim has a better team on paper, it's not a 6-to-1 ratio as the score indicated in game 1. The Ducks aren't that good and the Flames aren't nearly that bad. 

The Flames 3-0 record at the Saddledome is also not something to shrug off. With the chance to match lines and with the raucous C of Red fueling the home side, it will not be easy for Anaheim to win in Calgary.

Calgary will end up on that cart eventually. But I'd fully expect them to drag it out some more, just as they have stubbornly refused to die all season. There is no reason to expect anything different now.

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