Reeling from two straight setbacks. Staggered by having blown a 2-0 third period lead. The Flames were 22.8 seconds away from escaping with two huge points thanks to Matthew Tkachuk's second goal of the night with four minutes to go.
But last year's Stanley Cup finalists were pressing and were not going down without a fight. The face-off was in Calgary's end to the left of Chad Johnson.
At the dot, a rematch.
Exactly eleven seconds earlier in a battle of 32-year-olds with over 1,600 combined NHL games, Matt Stajan had cleanly beaten Joe Pavelski on a draw at that very same spot on the ice.
But could he out-duel the Sharks captain once again?
Stajan digs his skates in, legs jutting out like stabilizers on a backhoe. Bent over 90 degrees at the waist, eyes affixed on the puck, his bottom hand is choked so far down the shaft of his stick that his glove is brushing up against the blade. There's a sturdiness to his set-up. Heck, you could probably plunk a piano on his back and he wouldn't quiver.
Across from him, equally locked in, is a guy that scored 52 goals last year between the regular season (38) and Stanley Cup finals (14).
In the tale of the tape, Pavelski is 51.8 percent in face-offs this season compared to 55.9 percent for Stajan, who ranks No. 20 in the league. But don't be too hasty in giving the slight edge to Stajan, last year 'Little Joe' was 55.0 while Stajan was just 47.3.
Winning two straight is a big ask in that part of the rink, at that time in the game and with that much on the line.
There's an early jostle, but linesman Mark Wheler had yet to back up and reveal the dot. Easy fellas, easy.
As they come together again, Wheler finally glides backwards into position and the fencing begins. Battling with every ounce of strength they can muster, the two are both going at it hard. One problem though. Where's the puck? Oh, it's still in Wheler's hand.
As they untangle, Stajan whacks Pavelski in the back of the head with his stick, Pavelski gives a shot right back, Stajan counters with a right jab.
Exhaustion is setting in and and the puck hasn't touched the ice yet.
They come together one more time and finally the puck is down with Stajan prevailing once again. He works it towards the boards to Mark Giordano, who quickly dishes the puck to TJ Brodie. But Brodie's rim attempt doesn't get out, kept in by ex-Flames defenceman David Schlemko who seals off the boards.
Schlemko spies Pavelski with open space in the slot but the short pass is knocked awry by an alert stick from Stajan. The puck goes to Brodie instead but before he can corral it, it's knocked to the blueline.
Logan Couture gets it and tries to shoot and the puck deflects high in the air. Like a return specialist tracking down a punt, Stajan shuffles to the right face-off dot and tries to bat the puck out of the zone with his glove. He clears it out of immediate danger but an even better athletic play by Brent Burns scrambling across the blue-line keeps it in.
As the puck slides down the side boards, Tomas Hertl retrieves it and tries to spin and get the puck on net, but it's blocked by who else, the stick of Stajan. The puck goes to Brodie in the corner, who tries for a second time to rim it out that far side. Again. It's kept in by Schlemko.
The puck goes down the sideboards to Couture, who turns towards the net but before he can shoot, he has the puck knocked off his stick by guess who -- Stajan.
From one side of the ice to the other and back again, active stick the whole time, Stajan looks like a windshield wiper blade on high speed.
Schlemko retrieves the loose puck near the corner only to have it poked off his stick by Giordano. It goes right to Couture, who tries to shoot again but it's blocked by Giordano and bounds into the air. The Flames defenceman bats it into the corner where just before the buzzer goes, Stajan gets his stick on the puck one last time, knocking it behind the net and out of harm's way.
Horn sounds, a fist pump from Stajan with whatever energy he has left, and it's a victory hug for Johnson.
What a ride.
Rock Solid All Season
Last weekend, before the Flames headed out of town, I spent some time at the Saddledome chatting with Stajan, as well as talking to others about Stajan. Through 10 games at the time, he had been one of Calgary's most consistent forwards. Now through 12 games, that storyline has not changed.
Giordano says some guys value goes well beyond their stat line.
Setting Up Linemates for Success
Alex Chiasson spent time there and got moved up. Tkachuk spent a couple games on the fourth line and is now thriving with Backlund and Frolik. Same goes for Ferland, who has leveraged some nice chemistry with Stajan to be used in other situations.
Speaking of contributions, don't forget to add in clutch at the face-off dot too, and tenacious. Right, Little Joe?
Recent Flames Reading:
- Things That Make You go Hmmmm: Eight Intriguing Numbers Through 10 Games - Reflecting on the month of October, here are some eye-popping numbers that reveal some of the good, the bad and the ugly from the Flames first three weeks. (Nov. 1, 2016)
- FF80F Podcast: Episode 7 - Kristen Odland Guests in Breakdown of October - Beat writer Kristen Odland stopped by and we discussed the season so far, Glen Gulutzan's unique coaching methods and a contemplation of 'The Plan' for Matthew Tkachuk. (Oct. 30, 2016)
- Recurring Issue: Slow Starts for New Coaches More Common Than You Think - It was a rocky start for Glen Gulutzan with many fans in panic mode. But history shows a majority of coaches including last year's Stanley Cup finalists go through transition pains. (Oct. 23, 2016)
- Sunny in California: Stockton Unbeaten Thanks to Strong Starts for Several Prospects - To put a little giddy-up in the stride of Flames fans, I checked in on how Stockton was doing as they begin the season unbeaten and with some fine individual performances. (Oct. 20, 2016)