Swiss goalie Berra shines in debut, leading Flames to victory over defending Stanley Cup champs
Thrown into fire upon call-up, rookie makes 42 saves as Calgary wins 3-2 in overtime
CHICAGO — Everyone in the dressing room, in the city of Calgary, and even in the city of Chicago, knew the task in front of Reto Berra.
Not only was Sunday his first National Hockey League game, the recently called up Calgary Flames goalie was set to debut on the road against the defending Stanley Cup champions at Chicago’s United Center — one of the loudest buildings in the league where more than 20,000 fans set the tone and scream through an emotional rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.
That, alone, is enough to get the blood pumping.
“It was crazy awesome,” the bubbly 26-year-old Swiss netminder said. “I almost cried there. Like, my hair was standing up. The guys told me a little bit what to expect, but when you’re out there as a goalie . . . it’s really unbelievable.
“I was really nervous, but I knew I didn’t have much to lose against the Stanley Cup-winning team.”
So, what does the Swiss lad do?
He looks settled off the hop. Stops 29 of 30 shots to keep the action tied 1-1 through two periods of play. With his team ahead 2-1, he nearly wards off a five-on-three Blackhawks’ advantage in the third but shakes off Marian Hossa’s equalizer and marches into overtime. Sweats through 44 shots by the game’s end.
And, with Kris Russell sealing it stick side on Chicago goalie Corey Crawford 1:32 into the extra frame, Berra and the Flames nail a 3-2 road victory.
“Very proud of Reto,” said Flames head coach Bob Hartley. “Just the poise he showed throughout the game. Perfect control on every shot. The two shots that beat him were perfect shots.
“When you feel your goalie is on the game, every shot is not an adventure. Players feed off it.
“You could tell from the bench.”
Following Friday’s 4-3 home loss to the Detroit Red Wings, the Flames put goaltender Joey MacDonald on waivers and shipped him to the American Hockey League’s Abbotsford Heat on Sunday.
MacDonald had played seven games in Calgary this season, registering a 3-3-1 record along with a 3.17 GAA and a .885% save percentage. But it was decided the Flames’ wanted to give Berra a look — so why not throw him into the deep end against the Blackhawks? So, he met the team in Chicago on Saturday night along with defenceman Chad Billins, also called up from the Heat.
“Honestly, I had a lot of thoughts. Everything went through my mind,” said Berra, who’d last been seen in a Flames jersey in a 3-2 pre-season win over the Phoenix Coyotes on Sept. 26. “After lunch, I always sleep, but (Sunday) I couldn’t sleep. I was pretty nervous.”
Not that it showed.
On the third-period five-on-three Blackhawks’ power play — with Chris Butler off for holding and Matt Stajan for a delay of game — Berra spied Patrick Sharp hanging around the back door and made a superb save on his one-timer. Shortly after, he made a splendid glove save on Patrick Kane.
Although Hossa’s one-timer eventually beat him, it was an impressive sequence which also featured solid penalty-killing by T.J. Brodie, Mikael Backlund, and Dennis Wideman.
The entire Flames’ defence deserved credit for limiting the tired Blackhawks, who had rattled off a 5-1 road win over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday afternoon.
They kept Berra’s crease clear and weren’t getting star-struck by the fine puck movement of Toews, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp. Or the equally dangerous line of Brandon Saad, Brandon Pirri, and Patrick Kane.
The Flames’ forwards also didn’t quit on the young netminder.
In the second period, Flames forward T.J. Galiardi, taken down by Hossa on a breakaway, was awarded a penalty shot less than five minutes into the second period. The Calgary native missed the net, trying to go blocker side, but the visitors kept pressing.
At the 6:25 mark of the middle frame, Kane, Berra’s former 2012-13 NHL lockout teammate (the two played for EHC Biel-Bienne in the Swiss elite league), put the Hawks’ on the scoresheet with a shot from the top of the circle.
Forty-five seconds later, while the United Center announcers were still celebrating Kane’s goal, Michael Cammalleri deflected Wideman’s point shot to knot the score. Then, just 2:16 into the third period, Curtis Glencross picked the top corner of Crawford’s net and made it 2-1.
“It’s big,” said Glencross, who logged an impressive seven blocked shots to help make the night easier on Berra. “It’s fun when you get one in overtime. I thought we played a good game. It was unfortunate when we gave up that five-on-three (goal), I thought we did such a good job on that kill up until then.
“It was good to get that extra point.”
Which was the best case scenario as the 6-6-2 Flames began a four-game road trip that also includes upcoming stops in Minnesota (Tuesday), St. Louis (Thursday), and Colorado (Friday).
It also snapped the 9-2-4 Chicago’s three-game win streak and a 10-game losing streak for the Flames at the United Center.
“We beat the L.A. Kings, we beat the Hawks, so with some saves, we’re going to be in lots of games,” Hartley said. “(Sunday) could have gone either way, but it all starts with your goaltending.”
Acquired in the Jay Bouwmeester deal with St. Louis and sent to Abbotsford for seasoning at the start of the year, Berra had carried most of the load in Abbotsford going 4-3-1 (a 2.66 goals against average and 0.908 save percentage).
“Before the game, when they sing the national anthem, that gives you so much energy,” Berra said. “I had energy in the last period, also on the five-on-three. It was tough . . . to get a win in Chicago, I’ll take that.”
ICE CHIPS . . . The Flames scratched LW Lance Bouma, slotting Tim Jackman in his place on the fourth line with Backlund and RW Brian McGrattan.
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