Tag Archives: Flames

Matthews, Tavares lead Maple Leafs past Flames for 3rd straight win

Auston Matthews and John Tavares rode to the rescue scoring third-period goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 4-2 win Sunday over the host Calgary Flames.

Matthews and Tavares each had a goal and an assist, and Morgan Rielly and Alex Galchenyuk also scored for Toronto (25-10-3).

Maple Leafs goaltender Michael Hutchinson made 32 saves for the win.

“It definitely wasn’t our best, I think we looked a little sluggish at times,” Tavares said. “We defended really well and I thought played a quicker game in the third, which I think allowed us to take control.

“There’s going to be nights, you don’t have your best, but you’ve got to work and compete and find ways to get your game going. I think we did that.”

The Maple Leafs continue to top the NHL’s North Division and are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games.

WATCH | Leafs’ Matthews secures win against Flames:

Mitch Marner set up Auston Matthews for his league-leading 25th goal of the season in Toronto’s 4-2 win vs Calgary. 1:00

Joakim Nordstrom and Andrew Mangiapane scored for the Flames (16-20-3), who are 2-8-0 in their last 10 and 5-8-0 since Darryl Sutter took over as head coach.

“In order to keep up, the team has to play at a pace,” Sutter said. “You have to be able to execute at that pace and check at that pace. For some of our players, that’s difficult.”

David Rittich stopped 26-of-30 shots for the loss in the first of back-to-back games between the division rivals.

The Flames are at home to Toronto again Monday. Toronto leads the nine-game season series 5-2.

Calgary trails the Montreal Canadiens, holding down the fourth and final playoff spot in the division, by six points.

The Leafs went ahead 3-2 on a Flames own-goal credited to Tavares at 6:55 of the third period. Matthews made it 4-2 at 9:16.

Matthews scored his league-leading 25th from close range. From the goal-line, Mitch Marner dished to his linemate driving the net for the insurance goal.

Rittich made initial saves on William Nylander and Tavares, but the rebound went off the skate of Flames defenceman Noah Hanifin and into Calgary’s net.

Hanifin swung his stick in frustration and broke it across Calgary’s post.

“There’s a reason why [the Leafs] are where they are,” Flames captain Mark Giordano said. “And you could tell they were coming out with the mentality to win the game in the third.

“We’ve got to have that same mentality when games are tied or when you’re down, whatever the case, you’ve got to have that confidence.”

Galchenyuk scored his first as a Maple Leaf and evened the score at 2-2 at 17:08 in the second period. The forward converted a goal-mouth feed from Tavares.

“We obviously were not very good at all through 40 minutes, but we were in a game,” Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said.

“A big goal there late in the second. The way that it worked out, we really needed to find a way to get better for 20 and if we did, we liked our opportunity to get points here tonight. I really liked our third.”

WATCH | Rob Pizzo recaps week 11 in the NHL’s North Division:

In our weekly segment, Rob Pizzo catches you up on the week that was in the all-Canadian division in the NHL. 3:54

Mangiapane spotted the Flames a 2-1 lead with 39 seconds remaining in the opening period.

He pulled Mikael Backlund’s pass out of his skates and got an off-speed shot away that beat Hutchinson’s blocker.

The hosts drew even on Nordstrom’s goal at 12:43 of the first period. He tipped a Giordano slapshot upstairs on Hutchinson for his first goal as a Flame.

Rielly took advantage of Calgary’s defensive-zone turnover and scored on Toronto’s first shot on net 58 seconds after puck drop.

The Leafs defenceman skated the puck to the far faceoff circle and beat Rittich with a wrist shot over the Calgary goaltender’s left shoulder.

Calgary is scheduled to host the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday and Saturday. The Canucks, however, were dealing with 16 players on the NHL’s pandemic protocol list Sunday.

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Canucks game against Flames called off with 2 players, coach in COVID-19 protocols

The NHL’s Canadian-based North Division has been impacted by COVID-19 for the second time in less than two weeks.

The league postponed Wednesday night’s game between the Canucks and Flames after a second Vancouver player and a member of the team’s coaching staff were added to the league’s COVID-19 protocol list.

Canucks forward Adam Gaudette, who was pulled from Tuesday’s practice following a positive test result, was added to the list that afternoon.

Vancouver and Calgary were preparing as if Wednesday’s game would still go ahead — both teams held morning skate’s and virtual media availabilities at Rogers Arena — but the league announced its decision in a press release roughly 90 minutes before puck drop.

The NHL, which said it would provide a further update Thursday, added the call was made by medical teams from the league, NHL Players’ Association and Canucks.

A player on the COVID-19 protocol list has not necessarily tested positive.

The Montreal Canadiens had four games postponed — the first contests scratched in the North this season — last week when forwards Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia were added to the protocol list.

Those postponements, which included the shuttering of the Canadiens’ practice facility, forced the rescheduling of 11 games.

Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin said at the time one of his players tested positive for a coronavirus variant, which precipitated the shutdown. Kotkaniemi was removed from protocol Tuesday when the Canadiens returned to the ice against the Edmonton Oilers, but Armia remains on the list.

Canucks head coach Travis Green would not say following Wednesday’s morning skate if Gaudette had tested positive for a variant.

“I’m not going to get into personal stuff with Adam Gaudette,” he said. “We’re preparing to play, and planning to do so.”

Green added his club felt they were in the clear with just one positive test following some nervous hours.

“[Tuesday] when you get the news, you’re always wondering about it,” he said. “Last night we had a pretty good idea we were good to go this morning.

“We’ve tried to just stay focused on that task, and let the people that advise us on the protocols let us know if there’s anything else changing.”

42 games now postponed

The NHL’s truncated 56-game schedule has now seen 42 contests postponed because of COVID-19.

The league’s protocols require players and staff to be tested daily. Any time an individual’s initial test comes back positive, the lab does a second test on the initial sample.

If the second test is negative, a second sample is collected. But if that sample returns a positive result, it’s considered to be a “confirmed positive.”

The league requires individuals with positive tests to self isolate for 10 days, and for close contacts to self isolate for two weeks.

The 24-year-old Gaudette has seven points (three goals, four assists) in 33 games this season. The Canucks were also missing winger Jake Virtanen at Tuesday’s practice, who Green said “wasn’t feeling well so he stayed home.”

Vancouver and Calgary are tied for fifth in the division with identical 16-18-3 records, five points back of Montreal for the fourth and final playoff spot, although Montreal has a big advantage with five games in hand.

The Flames are scheduled to visit the Edmonton Oilers on Friday before opening a four-game homestand against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Canucks beginning Sunday.

The Canucks were coming off a six-day break heading into Wednesday before getting ready to embark on a seven-game road trip set to begin Saturday in Edmonton.

That’s all now very much up in the air.

Vancouver forward J.T. Miller and defenceman Jordie Benn missed multiple games in January after being placed into protocol.

“It’s not ideal,” Miller said Wednesday morning. “Everybody’s trying to do the right things to not have this situation happen.

“Hopefully we can minimize the damage here, and hopefully Gauds isn’t feeling too poorly.”

WHL Kelowna in 14-day quarantine

Also Wednesday, the Western Hockey League announced the Kelowna Rockets have had all activities suspended for a minimum of 14 days following six additional positive COVID-19 tests, taking the total to seven within the club after a positive test one day earlier.

The WHL says the positive COVID-19 test results belong to two staff members and four players.

In accordance with the WHL’s return-to-play protocol, the Rockets have immediately isolated and are being tested, and anyone with close contact has been instructed to self-quarantine and monitor symptoms for 14 days.

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Flames facing ‘make-or-break road trip’ after dismal loss to McDavid, Oilers

Calgary Flames alternate captain Matthew Tkachuk delivered an impassioned soliloquy on the Saturday afternoon of a Hockey Night in Canada clash with the Edmonton Oilers.

“It’s time for us to get going. Enough is enough,” Tkachuk told a Zoom call with reporters. “This is a huge, huge moment in our season, this game tonight. We have to be ready right now. I think we will be.”

Turns out, the Flames were not ready for a game that could very well define their season and for all the wrong reasons. Connor McDavid collected a natural hat trick and two assists in a 7-1 show of dominance by the Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton fans savoured the latest installment of the Battle of Alberta while disillusioned Flames fans hit social media to demand general manager Brad Treliving take drastic action after such embarrassment.

“That sucked,” Tkachuk said, running a hand through his mop of curls in exasperation. “Let’s call a spade a spade here. That was probably one of the toughest moments since I’ve been here. Just the way that it went, the way things are going.

“Things snowballed. They got out of hand pretty quickly.”

Did they ever for a Flames team that started the season with designs on one of the top spots in the NHL’s North Division.

Optimism abounds in the Alberta capital where the second-place Oilers are 9-2 in the last 11 games. Criticized for allegedly lacking offensive depth, Edmonton’s third and fourth lines are chipping in with timely goals.

WATCH | McDavid powers Oilers past Flames with 5 points:

Connor Mcdavid recorded three goals and two assists in Edmonton’s 7-1 blowout win over Calgary. 0:59

At age 26, defenceman Darnell Nurse has matured into a minute-munching stalwart on the back end. New addition Tyson Barrie gives the Oilers an exceptional power-play quarterback. And Jesse Puljujarvi, the fourth-overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, finally looks like a legitimate top-six forward on a line with McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

“It’s still early on in the year,” McDavid said. “There’s lots of hockey left. We’re playing well and we need to keep winning games.”

The Flames are riding a three-game losing streak, and they’re off to Toronto to play Monday and Wednesday against the league-leading Maple Leafs.


“We need to get back to playing the way we know we can,” said Flames captain Mark Giordano. “It starts individually. You have to look at yourself and get your game going, and then the team will get going as well.”

WATCH | Rob Pizzo recaps Week 5 in the NHL’s North Division:

Rob Pizzo catches you up on the week that was in the all-Canadian division in the NHL. 3:48

Jacob Markstrom concealed many of the Flames’ flaws through the first quarter season. Now, the veteran goaltender looks tired and discombobulated.

Calgary’s prize free-agent signing surrendered five goals on 15 shots Saturday before receiving the mercy hook in favour of David Rittich.

“I guess my one thought is I feel terrible for our goalies,” Tkachuk said. “They come in and they battle every practice, every game.

“If it wasn’t for them right now, who knows where we’d be in the standings. We’d be pretty close to the bottom.”

They’re closer to the bottom than the top, sitting in fifth at 8-9-1. With their next five games on the road, the Flames could return to Calgary on March 3 with their playoff hopes in tatters.

“Realistically, it’s a make-or-break road trip for our team the way things are going and not a whole lot of games left,” Tkachuk said. “You get behind the eight ball it’s hard to make up ground with less than 40 games left.”

On Saturday, the Flames outshot the Oilers 44-24. Tkachuk led the way with an assist on Calgary’s lone goal by Andrew Mangiapane, six hits and seven shots.

But the Flames simply can’t seem to overcome untimely miscues, maddening inconsistency and shaky starts. Case in point: they’ve surrendered the first goal this season in 12-of-18 games.

“The gaffes we give up are big ones and come at inopportune times,” said Calgary head coach Geoff Ward. “It’s fixable. It’s all fixable. but we’ve got to put our minds to it and get going here.”

Time is running out.

Toronto, and Auston Matthews, await.

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CBC | Sports News

Hockey Night in Canada: Flames vs. Oilers

Watch live on television and online on Saturday at 10 p.m. ET as the Calgary Flames battle the Edmonton Oilers on Hockey Night in Canada.

Please note that this stream is optimized for desktop or mobile web. If you prefer viewing this on the CBC Sports app, please open or download to watch this program.

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Flames remain in thick of playoff hunt thanks to goalie Jacob Markstrom

When NHL free agency opened last fall, Brad Treliving invested a tidy $ 36 million US in former Vancouver Canucks netminder Jacob Markstrom.

At the time, the Calgary Flames general manager received his share of criticism for spending that much dough — with a six-year term, no less — on a 31-year-old netminder likely on the back end of his career.

One quarter of the way through the regular season, Markstrom is the main reason why the inconsistent Flames (7-6-1) remain in the thick of the NHL North Division playoff hunt.

Brad Treliving, the son of Dragon’s Den star Jim Treliving, seems to know when to splurge on a luxury item.

WATCH | Week 4 roundup of the NHL’s North Division:

Rob Pizzo catches you up on the week that was in the all-Canadian division in the NHL. 2:54

“When Markie is out there, it’s contagious throughout the team,” says Calgary centre Sean Monahan. “A big save goes a long way. The bench gets up. The team kind of changes when you have a guy like that back there playing for you.”

The Flames have arguably not had “a guy like that” in net since Finnish sensation Miikka Kiprusoff retired in 2013.

“He’s won a lot of hockey games for us already, but we’ve got to help him out,” Flames forward Dillon Dube says of Markstrom. “It is definitely nice to have him there, though, knowing that you can have a chance to win every single night.

“It’s on us to play better in front of him.”

A second-round (31st overall) pick of the Florida Panthers in 2008, the late-blooming Markstrom oozes quiet confidence in the blue paint. At 6-foot-6, 206 pounds, he swoops from side-to-side with ease and repeatedly repels high-grade chances from close range.

His stats line is evidence of his nightly heroics with a goals-against-average of 2.33 and a .925 save percentage.

“He’s always keeping us in it,” says Flames forward Andrew Mangiapane. “In every game, he makes big, timely saves when needed.

“It gives the whole team confidence that if we make a bad play or a turnover, he’s always back there to be our last line of defence.”

WATCH | Rob Pizzo on the NHL’s biggest pests through the years:

Matthew Tkachuk has spent the season driving players crazy, but he is far from the first to do it. Rob Pizzo looks at 9 other players who got under their opponents skin. 2:03

Markstrom produced more big saves than the highlight reel could possibly show on Saturday, stopping 43-of-45 shots in a 3-1 loss to the Canucks.

“Vancouver is a desperate team, and they threw a lot of pucks at the net and there’s a lot of volume,” Markstrom says. “But, you know, at the end of the day it’s my job to stop the puck.

“It’s frustrating for me to feel like I’m playing a really good game and then five minutes left not come up with one more save to at least take it to overtime and get a point and give the team a chance.”

It’s easy to see why Markstrom’s teammates like him. The veteran is quick to heap praise on others, and he accepts responsibility for losses even when he has no business doing so.

“He’s a good man to have around a team,” says Flames head coach Geoff Ward. “He’s got the mental makeup of a starting goaltender. He’s pretty unflappable.”

Markstrom’s back-up David Rittich, an all-star in 2020, is attempting to rebuild his confidence, losing both of his starts this season. So if the No. 1 guy misses time due to injury, Calgary could be in trouble.

As long as Markstrom is healthy, the Flames are legitimate contenders for a playoff spot — even in the talent-laden North Division.

“He’s proven to be durable over his career, so you know he can log a lot of minutes,” Ward says. “He’s earned the trust of our team very, very quickly because of his work ethic, because he’s such a professional and because he gives our guys a chance to win.”

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Reilly’s 3-assist night helps Leafs hold off Flames

Morgan Reilly’s three assists helped the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 3-2 win over the host Calgary Flames on Sunday.

Wayne Simmonds scored his first goal as a Maple Leaf, Jake Muzzin earned his first of the season and Auston Matthews also scored for Toronto (5-2-0) in the afternoon matinee.

Mitch Marner assisted on a pair of Toronto goals and Jack Campbell stopped 31 of 33 shots for his second win in as many starts this season.

Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm countered for the Flames (2-1-1), who were coming off a five-day break without a game. 

WATCH | Matthews scores winner as Leafs down Flames:

Auston Matthews potted his third goal of the season in Toronto’s 3-2 win over the Flames. 1:01

Jacob Markstrom turned away 29 of 32 shots in the loss.

Down 3-2, Calgary pulled Markstrom for an extra attacker with 1:49 remaining. The Flames also called a timeout with 37 seconds to play, but couldn’t produce the equalizer.

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Flames legend Jarome Iginla plays role of beleaguered motorist during Boston TV segment

“We’re from Canada, so, it’s not too crazy. We’ve got some winter tires,” said a man interviewed by Boston 25 News on Saturday night. “We’re used to this growing up.”

It was a typical local news piece, reporting on poor visibility and poor road conditions in Massachusetts.

The man’s comments wouldn’t typically seem out of place in such a piece, except in this one instance — when the man on the street just happened to be Calgary Flames legend Jarome Iginla.

“I like the winter, but not necessarily — this might be a little too much,” Iginla told Boston 25 News.

On Twitter, Nicole Oliverio, the weekend evening anchor with the station, said she didn’t immediately recognize Iginla, who played a stint with the Boston Bruins.

“In my defence, it wasn’t my interview!” Oliverio wrote. “I was anchoring though, and didn’t pick up on it right away.”

In the interview, Iginla was turned to for his driving tips for the typical Boston driver in times of inclement weather.

“It’s not great, I tell you, you get some tough stretches,” he said. “But if you don’t go too fast, it’s doable.”

Iginla announced his retirement in 2018 after 20 seasons in the NHL. He scored 525 goals and 570 assists for 1,095 points in his 1,219 games with the Flames, before being traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2013.

Iginla also played for the Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings, finishing his career with 1,300 points.

He also won two Olympic gold medals and was named to the NHL All-Star team six times.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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With COVID-19 cases surging, Flames GM Treliving sees major challenges in scouting NHL prospects

In a normal season some members of the Calgary Flames’ scouting department attend well over 200 Western Hockey League games.

This year, with COVID-19 playing havoc with how the junior leagues operate, Calgary general manager Brad Treliving has no idea how many games Flames’ scouts will watch in person. That will impact the decisions made by the Flames, and other teams, come the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.

“There’s going to be less games played,” said Treliving. “If there’s less games, there’s going to be less viewings. It’s going to make it more difficult.”

The three major junior leagues in Canada are currently “all over the map” when it comes to schedules and who might be allowed into buildings to watch games.

“It’s made it more challenging, but you’ve got to find a way to get the job done as best you possibly can,” Treliving said.

“If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that you have to be flexible and you have to be prepared to pivot, weekly, daily, hourly as things change.”

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League began play Oct. 2, but saw some teams forced off the ice due to positive COVID tests. The league still plans on playing a 60-game schedule.

WATCH | NHL analyst Dave Poulin discusses NHL’s next steps:

The NHL had zero cases in the bubble during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but what’s next for the league? Andi Petrillo speaks with NHL analyst Dave Poulin. 6:03

The WHL has set a Jan. 8 start date. The schedule hasn’t been decided but up to 52 games is possible.

The Ontario Hockey League is looking at starting a 40-game season beginning Feb. 4.

WHL commissioner Ron Robison said the league plans “to do everything we can to accommodate” NHL scouts.

“The reality will be there’s less games,” he said.

Rewind the tape

Scouts hope to attend as many games as possible, but teams will have to rely heavily on video.

Treliving said video “is of great use and you get great mileage out of it,” especially for players teams already have their eye on.

“It’s more advantageous to watch video when you know the player a little bit,” he said. “When you turn on a game, and you’re trying to identify who the players are, it’s your first viewing, it’s more challenging.”

Using video probably won’t affect projected first-round picks like winger Dylan Guenther of the Edmonton Oil Kings or defenceman Brandt Clarke of the Barrie Colts. But scouts not being able to watch games live could result in some other players falling further back in the draft.

“It usually comes down to viewings,” said Treliving. “Those guys, later round picks, you get a real good sense of them based upon the number of times you see them.”

Playing less games also reduces a player’s chances of impressing scouts.

“There may be guys that aren’t going to play as much,” he said. “If you aren’t going to be playing, you’re not going to be seen.”

Video has “come a long way,” said Treliving, but scouts “are still a little bit of a slave to the quality.

“You could be the greatest talent evaluator as a scout, but if the quality is not very good, it’s difficult to really dig into.”

Silver lining

The Canadian Hockey League announced March 12 it was cancelling the remaining games in the 2020 regular season due to COVID-19. A few weeks later the Memorial Cup, scheduled for Kelowna, B.C., was cancelled.

While anxious to get back playing, some junior players like Colton Dach believe the long layoff will actually improve their draft potential.

“We’ve had six or seven months of training and to make ourselves better to get drafted,” said Dach a 17-year-old winger with the Saskatoon Blades who is projected to be chosen anywhere from the fourth to sixth round.

“For me personally, I’ve already noticed myself being faster and stronger.”

The extra time has also helped Zack Ostapchuk — a 17-year-old forward with the Vancouver Giants — rehab from a serious knee injury that shortened his season last year.

“I’m eight months into my recovery, so it helps for sure,” said Ostapchuk.

Treliving agreed a long summer of training and recuperation will benefit many of the draft-eligible players.

“They’ve had that time to physically develop,” he said. “It’s offset by … you’re not playing as many games to be seen. But in the long run, it could be a very good thing for some of these kids that they’ve had this extra training time.”

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Flames ride special teams to earn win over Jets

The Calgary Flames rode superior special teams to a 4-1 win over demoralized Winnipeg Jets to start their qualifying-round series Saturday.

The Jets didn’t recover from losing centre Mark Scheifele to injury early in the first period. They were outshot 33-18 and dominated by the Flames in the second period.

Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan produced power-play goals and Tobias Rieder scored shorthanded in the second. Andrew Mangiapane added an empty-net goal.

Andrew Copp countered for the Jets in the first period.

WATCH | Scheifele leaves game with injury:

Winnipeg Jets centre Mark Scheifele needed help getting off the ice after being hit along the boards by Matthew Tkachuk. 1:44

Cam Talbot made 17 saves for the win in his first playoff start with the Flames.

Whether it was the 33-year-old or David Rittich who would get the nod for Game 1 of the best-of-five series was much-debated in Calgary, and not revealed until game time.

Talbot had less work than Vezina Trophy nominee and Jets counterpart Connor Hellebuyck, although the Flames goaltender weathered three straight Jets power-play chances in the third.

Hellebuyck stopped 29 shots in the loss.

The potential loss of season scoring co-leader Scheifele would be devastating for Winnipeg’s Stanley Cup prospects.

The Flames (36-27-7) ranked eighth in the conference and the Jets (37-28-6) ninth when the NHL suspended the season March 12.

The only all-Canadian matchup in the NHL’s qualifying round had little history from the 2019-20 season.

WATCH | Reider scores short-handed goal:

Tobias Reider’s shorthanded goal in the 2nd period would hold up as the game winner in Calgary’s 4-1 win against Winnipeg. 1:03

Their lone meeting was the Oct. 26 outdoor Heritage Classic in Regina, which Winnipeg won 2-1 in overtime.

But animosity brewed in the first period when Scheifele went awkwardly into the boards at 5:41.

He appeared to jam his left leg under him as Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk applied his arm to Scheifele’s back.

Scheifele injury leads to fight

As Scheifele writhed in pain, Winnipeg’s bench directed a stream of expletives at Calgary’s.

Tkachuk’s skate appeared to make contact with Scheifele’s. No penalty was called on the play.

Jets captain Blake Wheeler summoned Tkachuk for retributive justice on the Flames forward’s next shift. Tkachuk obliged and the two traded punches.

Just 31 seconds after that scrap, Adam Lowry dished a backhand from behind the net out front to Copp to whip over Talbot’s glove.

But Winnipeg otherwise mustered little offence with a power play held scoreless on seven chances.

WATCH | Jets vs. Flames series preview:

In part 5 of 10, Rob Pizzo breaks down the only all-Canadian matchup in the qualification round.  1:11

Jets winger Patrik Laine headed to the dressing room early in the third after a collision with Flames captain Mark Giordano.

Calgary went 2 for 4 with a man advantage.

Backlund buried a high shot on Hellebuyck’s blocker side at 18:14. Calgary’s Rieder shelved a backhand on a short-handed breakaway at 12:51.

The puck bobbling on a pass from Sean Monahan, Gaudreau deftly corralled it to get a sharp-angled shot away and by Hellebuyck’s glove at 7:06 to pull Calgary even.

The Jets and Flames got their first taste of playoff hockey without fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cold, cavernous interior of Edmonton’s Rogers Place was tarted up with multiple large light screens throwing colour onto screens covering empty seats.

The clack of the puck on sticks and exhortations from the players’ benches were often the only sounds heard after faceoffs.

Calgary was the home team Saturday and will be again for Game 2 on Monday. Winnipeg is the home club in Tuesday’s Game 3.

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Asterisk or not, Flames coach sees tough road ahead in battle for Stanley Cup

Geoff Ward realizes there are hockey fans who staunchly believe in attaching an asterisk to the 2020 Stanley Cup champions.

The Calgary Flames interim head coach gets that this Stanley Cup tournament — slated to start in the heat of summer with no fans in attendance — is vastly different than in years past.

But Ward figures the NHL is preserving the sanctity of Lord Stanley’s chalice through the most trying of circumstances — a global pandemic.

“Whoever wins, believe me, there is going to be no sort of feeling like, ‘Oh, it was a cheap year. It was something different. It wasn’t normal,’ ” Ward told reporters last week via Zoom. “Whoever is crowned the Stanley Cup champion is going to take an awful lot of pride in that.

“I don’t see anything that is going to take anything away from being a Stanley Cup champion this year.”

WATCH | Should there be an asterisk beside this season’s Stanley Cup winner? 

Longtime sportscaster John Shannon argues against the dreaded asterisk, saying a win this season should count just the same as any other. 1:06

The NHL and NHLPA struck an agreement last week on a return-to-play format that includes 24 teams — as opposed to the traditional 16 — in the post-season.

There is so much still in flux — practice rinks need to open, followed by training camps in July, the selection of two host cities, and so many health and safety issues to iron out — before hockey fans get their fix.

Regardless, the new plan calls for the top-4 clubs in the Eastern and Western Conference to play two abbreviated round-robin tournaments to determine playoff seeding.

The other eight teams in each conference would play a best-of-five ‘play-in’ series — No. 5 versus No. 12, No. 6 versus No. 11, No. 7 versus No. 10, and No. 8 versus No. 9 — to determine the 16 clubs left standing for the playoffs.

“The reason we decided the format is because it had the most integrity possible for the league and the players,” says Vancouver Canucks centre Brandon Sutter. “It’s not an easy trophy to win. This year shouldn’t be any different than other years. Whoever wins will be very deserving.”

Vancouver’s playoff chances look much better today than they did back on March 10 when they squeezed out a 5-4 shootout victory over the New York Islanders to unknowingly conclude the abbreviated regular season.

Sidelined at the time with a knee injury, all-star Jacob Markstrom is expected to be back between the pipes whenever play resumes against the Minnesota Wild.

“In my opinion you are going to have to play some pretty tough hockey and go through a lot of tough hockey teams and tough games,” said Vancouver captain Bo Horvat. “It’s still going to be tough to win the Stanley Cup.”

WATCH | The latest plans for sports leagues returning to play: 

Sports around the world are formulating plans to get back to action, Rob Pizzo rounds up the latest news from each.  3:20

With time to recover from the regular season, most teams will be blessed with the services of most, if not all, of their star players.

“I really feel like it’s going to be a harder Cup to win than most years — if not the hardest — because of a) the number of rounds and b) the strength of the teams and the health of the teams,” said Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano. “It’s going to be every team at their best basically.  

“When people talk about the asterisk, I think what people in the public are talking about are teams that, in other years, wouldn’t have gotten into the playoffs with where they’re sitting right now. We’re not one of those teams.”

Ranked 24th in league, the Montreal Canadiens are definitely one of “those” teams. In March, there was nothing to do but play out the string.

Then came the shutdown necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s obviously a few teams like ourselves that have been given a second life,” Montreal forward Brendan Gallagher told reporters on a video conference call.  “You just try and take advantage of that the best you can if all goes well.”

As for the asterisk, Gallagher said that’s not logical given the circumstances.

“For a team to go through five series potentially and win a Stanley Cup? I don’t think there’s anyone who can say they didn’t deserve it.”

WATCH | Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson hoping to host NHL playoffs: 

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson joins CBC News’ Vassy Kapelos to discuss the city’s bid to host the NHL playoffs, while also safeguarding citizens from the spread of COVID-19. 5:59

There is no asterisk engraved on the Stanley Cup alongside the 1995 New Jersey Devils, who won after a 48-game season due to a lockout. The same goes for the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes after an abbreviated regular season caused by labour strife.

After the customary 82-game regular season, Ward won the Stanley Cup in 2011 as an assistant coach with the Boston Bruins.

The Calgary coach figures the road ahead is just as steep – if not more so – for the eventual champions.

“You’re going to go through the same grind,” he said. “It basically is going to be a tournament like we have every year.

“But I just feel, with the extra round for the teams that have to play in, it could be the hardest Cup to win.”

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