It was the kind of night that makes you believe maybe curses really do exist in professional sport.
Nothing ever seems to go right for the Calgary Flames in Anaheim, and it was that way again Saturday night, where the Flames lost a game they probably deserved to win, 3-2 at the hands of the hometown Ducks.
On a night when the Flames carried the play for most of the night, the Ducks got a fluky power-play goal from Ryan Getzlaf with 4:46 to go in regulation to secure the victory. Getzlaf was stationed at the right point, when his cross-ice pass through the seam deflected off Lance Bouma's skate, changed directions by almost 90 degrees and deflected in past goaltender Brian Elliott. The Flames keep waiting for the law of averages to catch up with the Ducks, but it just refuses to happen.
Anaheim survived a second period in which they were outshot 15-6 and badly outplayed to sneak out yet another victory over the visiting Flames. Calgary last won here exactly 4,008 days ago – April 25, 2006 – but the jinx of all jinxes just keeps on going and going. They've lost blowouts and heartbreakers in that time, with Saturday's loss falling squarely into the latter category.
The win gives the Ducks a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven Pacific Division semi-final playoff series.
The Flames haven't won a game here since rookie Matthew Tkachuk was playing peewee hockey in St. Louis. It was so long ago, the Ducks were still nicknamed "Mighty" (after their original Disney corporate masters) and the building was known as the Arrowhead (aka Duck) Pond, not the Honda Center.
The series now shifts to Calgary, for Game 3 Monday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome, where the victories are a little easier for the Flames to come by.
But this one will be a hard pill to swallow.
The Flames hav nothing to show for two fairly competitive outings, both of which started out in similar fashion, with them falling behind early. This time, goals by Jakob Silfverberg and Rickard Rakell in the first 6:44 of play gave Anaheim a quick 2-0 lead.
A pivotal shorthanded goal by Mikael Backlund while killing a double high-sticking minor to Tkachuk was critical in switching the momentum to Calgary for a time. Backlund skated down a chip pass from Michal Frolik and scored on a breakaway against Ducks' goaltender John Gibson, stopping the bleeding at a critical juncture in the game. The Flames killed off the rest of the penalty to Tkachuk and managed to carry the momentum for most of the second period.
After a rocky start, Elliott settled down and kept the game within reach. It has been a relatively quiet series thus far for the Flames' leading scorer, Johnny Gaudreau, but he completed a lightning quick three-way passing play that put the puck on Sean Monahan's stick for a one-timer from the high slot 7:01 into the second period, tying the game at two goals apiece.
At 2-2 midway through the second period, the Flames had a second-period goal by Alex Chiasson disallowed for goaltender interference. The NHL's situation room in Toronto initiated a video review to further examine if the puck crossed the Anaheim goal line before the net became displaced. Referees Wes McCauley and Brian Pochmara, who were working the game, informed the situation room that the call on the ice was that Gibson had been interfered with before the puck crossed the goal line, which is not a reviewable play. As a result, the call on the ice stood – no goal Calgary.
Flames' defenceman Dougie Hamilton was in the penalty box for holding Corey Perry's stick when Getzlaf scored the winning goal, after taking three additional minors in the opening night loss as well.
Flames coach Glen Gulutzan was unhappy with the officiating, saying in his mind "the standard changed in the last six minutes. Clearly, I think people at home who watched a great game could see that when get a defenceman [Hamilton] skating forward and a forward that interferes with him a little, there's going to be an exchange sometime there."
Over all, it was a spirited affair, the bad blood running through the final two games of the regular season spilling into this one. A pair of adversaries from a playoff series two years ago – Calgary's Micheal Ferland, Anaheim's Kevin Bieksa, who was playing for the Vancouver Canucks back then – renewed their acquaintances, dropping the mitts.
Bieksa had previously taken a pair of minor penalties; the Ducks are a team quickly running out of defencemen. Cam Fowler, their top man, is out and Sami Vatanan, a reliable top-four player, was an 11th hour scratch, with an undisclosed injury. It forced them to put Korbinian Holzer in for his first-ever NHL playoff appearance. Brandon Montour was playing his second NHL playoff game, Josh Manson his third and Shea Theodore just his eighth.
So it is a raw, unproven group that generally speaking acquitted itself pretty well.