It’s less sexy than the Blue Jackets clobbering Tampa, but out west the Avalanche are on the verge of upsetting the other top seed, taking a 3-1 series lead over the Flames after a comeback 3-2 overtime win. Colorado’s doing a lot right, but a large share of their success belongs to goalie Philipp Grubauer, whose outplaying of Mike Smith has been the difference in both of this series’ overtime games. Not that the Flames are giving Smith a ton of help.
Smith was the big question mark heading into this series, but he’s actually been pretty good, aside from a blowout in Game 3. Even in that one though, the Avs got a whopping 56 shots on goal. On Thursday things weren’t any easier for him, with Colorado putting another 52 pucks on net. Still, Smith held the Avs scoreless through two before they started their comeback, with Mikko Rantanen tying things up on the power play with under three minutes left in regulation.
But for all Smith kept Calgary in the game, Grubauer was just a little bit better for a little bit longer, stopping 35 of 37 shot. He has had help from his skaters, who’ve generally tilted the ice the other way . “It starts with our defense,” Avs forward J.T. Compher said. “We’re closing plays down in our D-zone and transitioning to our offense. We’re playing with speed through the neutral and hemming them in their D-zone.”
But in the game’s crucial moment, it was all Grubauer. Early in overtime, Mikael Backlund found himself on the doorstep with only an out-of-position Grubauer’s pad between him and the win. You’ve seen this scenario a million times, and quite often the skater isn’t able to lift the puck and frustratingly thuds it directly into the pad. But Backlund took the extra quarter-second to settle the puck and put some air under it. Unfortunately for him, Grubauer used that extra quarter-second to raise his pad.
That would be the Flames’ best chance. Not too many minutes later, Carl Soderberg found Rantanen for a textbook one-timer to send the fans home happy.
It was a nightmare evening for Backlund. He was in the penalty box for Rantanen’s first, tying goal. He was a couple vertical inches away from winning the game. And Rantanen’s winner was taken right in his face. “It’s hard,” he said. “It’s tough. I took a bad penalty and then I had the chance to redeem myself and instead they score right in front of me again. It’s going to be a long night. A tough night.”
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If Calgary can’t now string together three straight wins—“I don’t think a lot of people are going to think we can do it,” Backlund said, “but we know we can.”—it’s going to be a long and tough summer for the Flames.