Two nights after his agent put him in the eye of the storm with suggestions there was no joy left in Cowtown, there stood Jonathan Huberdeau with a grin bigger than his paycheque.
His response to the previous day’s media maelstrom was to piece together his best effort as a Flame.
“Walshy fired me up, I guess,” he joked during Hockey Night in Canada’s walk-off chat as the game’s first star in a 3-2 overtime win over the Rangers.
“For me, personally, it has been a while, so it feels good,” added the team’s 84-million dollar man in the dressing room.
“But I think as a team too, you know, it’s fun to see the guys smiling and having some fun.
“That’s what it’s all about.”
The first 55 games aside, his return to form couldn’t have come at a better time.
Reeling on the ice after two painful losses, and becoming extra sensitive off it, the Flames needed something to turn their fortunes – and the narrative – around.
Two goals in the opening minute of play can do that for a group, especially when the setup for the second one came from the slick winger the Flames acquired in the summer with hopes he’d be their offensive leader.
“Tonight is how I’ve got to play the rest of the year,” said Huberdeau, who finished with two assists, including the game-winning setup on Mikael Backlund’s dramatic winner.
“Ya know, sometimes you think you don’t have it in you, and I showed I still have it and can make some plays and play well.
“It’s going to bring the confidence back, and that’s what I need.
“I knew it was going to come back, but it’s only one game.
“So I’ve got to keep going.”
So does the team, which is much more possible if Huberdeau can find any semblance of the slick playmaking that led to a 115-point season last year.
On Saturday, he was engaged, productive, creative and by far the most noticeable player on the ice.
He even pulled off the rare, self-pass off the back of the net, at one point.
His chemistry with linemates Jakob Pelletier and Nazem Kadri was on full display eight seconds after Andrew Mangiapane’s game-opener, when they tic-tac-toed it for Kadri’s 21st of the year a mere 46 seconds in.
While holding their early 2-0 lead until late in the second period, Huberdeau’s line was creating chances, forechecking well and bringing plenty of energy.
In short, they acted like a top line should.
“I’ve just got to move my feet,” said Huberdeau of his key to success.
“That’s what I’m good at. Make some plays and shoot a bit more.
“Our line was good, we created some chances. Pelts was good, Naz too. That’s a good sign.”
As a trio, they generated nine shots on goal, had four more blocked and missed the net on another chance.
For a team so sorely missing the top-line presence they had last season, these are the type of efforts required to keep the Flames in this, the tightest of races.
Given the week he’s just had, how utterly poetic it was for Huberdeau to cap days of drama with his power-play point shot in OT.
“You know my shot – there’s no way that was going in,” he laughed, when asked if he was aiming to score or use Backlund as an accomplice.
“I saw Backs was wide open.
“He works on that every morning skate – it paid off this time.
“We showed some character. That’s what we needed. Huge win for us.”
The character part referred to the Rangers’ game-tying goal with seven minutes left, putting 19,206 on the edge of their seats for what many must have believed would end up as horribly as so many third periods have for the Flames this year.
Overtimes have been worse, with the Flames going 4-11 after 60 minutes.
Make that 5-11 now, thanks to an effort that also included an important bounce back for Jacob Markstrom, who made 19 saves, including a sprawling beauty in the third that temporarily preserved a one-goal lead.
No two people are more important to the Flames’ playoff chances than Markstrom and Huberdeau, whose sub-par seasons have had plenty to do with the predicament they’re in.
“Huby looked good,” smiled Backlund.
“You can tell after the first period, their line scoring puts us up 2-0. They had jump all night, created a lot of chances.
“Great shot by him, seeing we had some room in front there.
“He had a good night for us.”