LAS VEGAS – A dipperoo and a pinball.
That’s a snippet of what it took to help finally break the sort of losing skid Sin City was built on.
Amidst a horrifically frustrating season in which the Flames have collected one-goal losses like casino-goers collect ATM receipts, lady luck finally shone upon a Flames team that needs it now more than ever.
With the rival Jets and Predators losing earlier in the night, the Flames stepped into T-Mobile Arena on Thursday poised to finally author the type of turning point they’ve struggled to find for months.
Clinging to a 3-2 lead going into a third period that hasn’t been kind to the Flames all season, they finally broke through in the most unlikely of environs.
Shortly after a stellar glove stop by Jacob Markstrom staved off the obvious push of the division-leading Knights, Mikael Backlund’s centring pass from behind the goal line bounced off Alex Pietrangelo and pinballed off the back of Jonathan Quick’s mask to carom into net.
Five minutes later, Tyler Toffoli banged in his second of the game after an Andrew Mangiapane breakaway shot bounced right onto the tape of the Flames’ leading scorer.
“Just a savvy vet – I’m going to have the faith he called that shot and knew what he was doing there,” beamed Flames forward Blake Coleman of Backlund’s unlikely insurance marker.
“I’m a big believer you earn your luck.
“I agree the bounces maybe haven’t gone our way, but there are times we certainly didn’t earn the bounces, and I thought tonight we did.
“It was a solid effort and we gave ourselves a chance to have those bounces go our way.”
Winning in a rink in which the Flames had been a lifetime 0-7-1, and a 7-2 win at that, was the equivalent of finding a $100 chip while walking down Las Vegas Boulevard.
Totally unexpected, but something you can build on.
“Especially in this arena, I feel like there’s been some (unlucky) breaks before,” said Backlund, who simply described his pinball play as lucky.
“This year too, there have been a lot of bounces the other way.
“Same time, when we play the way we can, that’s when the bounces come.
“It feels good, winning here after being part of all the losses. It feels really good to break that record or spell, whatever you call it.”
With the playoff gap narrowing to three points with 13 games remaining, it’s suddenly a whole lot more realistic to believe the Flames’ playoff hopes aren’t the type of longshot they seemed just 24 hours earlier.
After all, this team has nabbed points in five of its last six outings, and now comes home with the type of momentous win they’d like to believe they can follow up properly against Dallas Saturday.
“I think we’ve stayed in the moment for quite a while,” said Flames head coach Darryl Sutter.
“We’ve played so many one-goal games this year, you could have easily just walked away and said, ‘Ah hell, this isn’t going to work.’
“That hasn’t happened with this club yet.”
None of this is to suggest the Flames were lucky to win this one, as it truly was one of the team’s gutsiest outings at the most crucial of junctures.
They earned every ounce of the shocking result.
Markstrom was stellar again, making 17 saves, Toffoli’s four-point night gave him a new career high of 60 points, Dillon Dube tied a career high with his 18th, Coleman’s two goals included the game-winner and 11 Flames collected points for the goal-starved bunch.
To do it in their own personal house of horrors, against the NHL’s hottest club since the All-Star break, is significant.
All this on a night when MacKenzie Weegar’s knuckler from the point opened the scoring against one of the league’s hottest netminders.
“My dipperoo – I’ve been working on that shot for a long time now,” smiled Weegar, as several teammates walked by, giving him the gears on a shot he aptly called a “muffin” during the intermission.
“It was probably 45 miles per hour, but it’s nice it went through.
“We’ve been working hard for our chances and sometimes I feel we’re not being rewarded for it, so to get a couple good bounces there was nice to see.”
Sutter almost broke Twitter during warmup when he trotted out four new lines, none of which included fan favourites Jakob Pelletier or Walker Duehr.
Splitting up Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri for the first time in a while, he had the former lining up with Backlund and Coleman, as the later centered Milan Lucic and Trevor Lewis, playing just 12 minutes.
Dube was on the fourth line with Adam Ruzicka and Nick Ritchie.
“Just trying to get some energy into the lineup tonight,” said Sutter.
“Get Rosie and Big Rich in and get some energy and get some guys that are struggling to score moving around, try to find a spot for them.”
One guy who hasn’t struggled at any point to score is Toffoli, who deemed the win “huge,” especially considering the third-period collapse that marked their last nightmarish visit weeks earlier.
His 27th of the season gave the Flames a 2-0 lead early in the second with a confident drive to the net he slid in around Quick.
“I came into the season wanting to prove something and I’m trying everything I can to help the team win games – tonight was obviously a good night,” he said, before being asked if his motivation was to prove he indeed deserved to be a first-liner.
“I know I am, but other people thought differently.
“I’ve kind of done that my whole career. People have doubted me, at times, and I’ve risen to the occasion, and I just want to get into the playoffs and make some noise.”
A notion he helped make seem much more possible in the most improbable of places.