Johnson: Flames dominated Leafs in almost every way except for the scoreboard where it counts most
Hard to imagine Calgary’s offence playing much better; Jonathan Bernier was just too good on this night
Post-deluge, the easy-out concept that maybe, all things considered, it just ‘wasn’t their night’ was not sitting well with Curtis Glencross.
“It was,” corrected the Calgary Flames’ left winger, “our night.
“We outplayed ’em in the first period.
“And in the second period.
“And in the third period.
“So it WAS our night. But . . .”
A soft, exasperated, disbelieving shake of the head.
“It’s tough. We deserved a better outcome.”
By any reasonable analysis. In every way imaginable. The Toronto Maple Leafs were beaten in literally every department you could conceive of Wednesday at the Scotiabank Saddledome, except the one that trumps all others: On the scoreboard. Oh, and between the pipes, too. Jonathan Bernier wasn’t a mere goaltender on this night. He could best be described as a fortification. A force field. It might’ve been easier launching a pitched assault and endeavouring to breach Helm’s Deep.
Bernier was riddled with more slugs than bandits Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in the famous police ambush on a rural road in Bienville Parish, Louisiana in 1934.
Bombarded with 43 Flames shots in aggregate, a staggering 35 through 40 lopsided minutes. Tips that coquettishly skimmed wide of a post. More traffic than you’ll find at 4th and Lexington on a midtown Manhattan Friday rush-hour commute.
The man was, put simply, immense.
“Unbelievable performance by him,” agreed ex-Leaf Joe Colborne, who played, and with distinction, six ticks under 24 minutes against his old mates. “Give them credit, we had traffic. Our line had six or seven shots that were tips and he was finding a way to get his body on it. But their D did a good job clearing pucks, too.
“It was a good effort, but we’ve got to have better execution.”
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The Flames took turns manning the battering ram. Sean Monahan and David Jones were credited with six cracks at breaking down Bernier’s door. Glencross and T.J. Brodie five apiece. Only two Calgary skaters didn’t register at least one shot.
“He played good tonight,” sighed defenceman T.J. Brodie. “We worked hard. We had the puck in their end a lot. But we’ve just got to find a way to put the puck in the net.”
So as the Flames troop back to practice Thursday morning, they can bemoan a lack of finish, absolutely rotten luck and a lethal turnover by Brodie that was transformed into Mason Raymond’s tally that catapulted Toronto into a 3-1 third-period lead it certainly did not deserve.
They can also blame a power play that, despite the outward trappings of could not find the needed payoff on five opportunities, including a late boarding minor, at the 17-minute mark, to David Clarkson for plastering Chris Butler into the woodwork.
Would the locals be rewarded late for all their industry and territorial dominance?
As it turned out, no. With 1:22 left, Clarkson still incarcerated and Calgary goalie Karri Ramo seated on the bench in favour of an extra attacker, Leaf defenceman Paul Ranger rudely shoved Jiri Huder off the puck at the Toronto blueline, freeing it up to skim into an empty net for 4-2.
A shortie, to close the deal.
“We created a lot off the power play, too, tonight,” argued Glencross. “They blocked a lot of shots and did a good job collapsing in front of the net and clearing the rebounds when we did get there. It seemed there were a lot of bouncing pucks, like rebounds, we’re scrambling to try to knock ’em down and fire ’em. You get one of them to land flat and it’s a different story.”
Added Colborne: “It’s one thing if we’re not generating any chances, if they’re dumping it down or we’re not getting in the zone. It’s another thing to get the shots we did, the chances we did.
“We just couldn’t apply the finishing touch.”
In terms of toil and determination, these young Flames — minus their captain Mark Giordano and the dependable Lee Stempniak — delivered again. Outside of the lack of finish, it’s difficult to imagine them playing much better offensively. There was no backing off, no crying over spilled milk, no allowing a growing sense of frustration or Bernier’s theatrics to paralyze them.
“We’re gonna stay positive,” promised Glencross, “and keep going. We’re not a team hurtin’ in the goal-scoring department. We played well in a lot of areas. Sometimes what happened tonight, happens.”
With the Detroit Red Wings here on Friday to end a three-game homestand and another hellish road trip in the offing — Chicago, Minnesota, St. Louis and Colorado — the unfairness of Wednesday must’ve hurt all the more.
“Yes,” replied Colborne, “and no. On the bench we knew were generating chances. It comes down to they capitalized better on their chances. So creating that many chances . . . you can kind of live with it. But in another way, that almost makes it more frustrating. They’re a well-coached team and we got beat by a good goalie.
“They usually get outshot. It’s a weird thing but they protect the house well.
“And that was a pretty special performance by Bernie today.”
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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