Calgary Flames exit playoffs amid controversy over disallowed goal
The Calgary Flames didn't go quietly, but they still went with the controversial disallowing of a potential game-winning goal hanging over their exit.
Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid scoring the overtime winner at 5:03 on a feed from Leon Draisaitl for a 5-4 win Thursday stuck the dagger in Calgary's hopes of extending the NHL's first playoff Battle of Alberta in 31 years.
The Oilers took their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal 4-1.
Edmonton awaits the winner of the other semifinal between the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues to know their conference final opponent.
Thursday's Game 5 was tied 4-4 heading into the third period. Calgary's Saddledome erupted when the puck laying near the goal-line went off Flames forward Blake Coleman's skate and into the net as he was pushed into the crease by Oilers defenceman Cody Ceci with six minutes remaining in regulation.
Officials reviewed the goal and ruled the puck was kicked in. Debate over whether it should have stood will circulate for some time among disappointed Flames fans.
"Depends what you call a distinct kicking motion," Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said. "If somebody's on the ground and you lift your foot up, kick him in the head, that's a distinct kicking motion.
"If you slide your foot in the ground, it's not a distinct kicking motion."
Said Coleman: "I opened my foot, but my understanding is that you can redirect the puck off your foot as long as you're not lifting it and kicking it into the net. I'll go watch it again and maybe it's glaringly obvious. I just didn't feel like I did."
Leading 2-0 and 4-3 in the second period, Calgary was the better team in the faceoff circle Thursday, winning 67 per cent of draws.
Mikael Backlund, Johnny Gaudreau, Andrew Mangiapane and Calle Jarnkrok scored while Jacob Markstrom made 30 saves for the Flames.
Calgary was holding McDavid off the scoresheet for the first game in the series until his OT winner.
"He can make anything out of nothing and he's very hard to play against," Backlund said.
There was little to choose between the two clubs in Game 5, but the Oilers came through in the tough moments of the series.
"Quite honest, the series was about Games 2, Games 4 and Games 5, which is tonight, they were all tied in the third period halfway through," Sutter said. "Edmonton scored the big goal."
After a 9-6 win over the Oilers in a wild Game 1, the Flames were outscored 19-11.
Calgary's power play was 2-for-14 overall compared to Edmonton's 4-for-20.
"It's hard, but I don't think we lost this series today," Backlund said.
"Games 2 and 3 got away from us. Even Game 1, we were up 6-2, we should kill the first game right there. Don't give the big guns any free confidence."
Edmonton's top two producers — McDavid and Draisaitl — combined for five goals and 24 assists in the series.
Behind McDavid and Draisaitl, the Oilers boasted more timely secondary scoring from Evander Kane, Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins throughout the series.
Calgary's top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm combined for six goals and eight assists, but just two goals and two assists in four straight playoff losses to the Oilers.
"I think we all believed we had a deep run in us," Coleman said. "You've got to give Edmonton credit. I thought their big guys played a big series. They had some depth. They made plays in key moments of games and we didn't.
"You look at a lot of games that were tight in the third and we just couldn't come up with that big play to put us over the hump in the last couple games."
The series featured goaltending that veered from brilliant to mediocre and back again from both Markstrom and Edmonton's Mike Smith.
Despite a few soft goals and an early hook in Game 1, the 40-year-old Smith outplayed Calgary's goaltender when it counted.
"If you guys want to criticize, I'm not doing it," Sutter said of Markstrom. "He had a hell of a year. He's one of our captains, one of our leaders. We won 55 games and how many did he win? Most of them."
In the "what-ifs" surrounding Calgary's playoff ouster, a Flames' back end lacking playoff experience needed a healthy Chris Tanev to help counter Edmonton's firepower.
After what appeared to be a right-shoulder injury in Game 6 against Dallas, Calgary's top shutdown defenceman played in pain when he returned to the lineup for the fourth and fifth games of the series against Edmonton.
The hip injury ending centre Sean Monahan's season in April dented Calgary's power play heading into the playoffs.
The 2022 Flames changed the narrative somewhat on their reputation for playoff fragility by winning a round for the first time in seven years, and doing it with a Game 7 overtime win over the Dallas Stars in the conference quarterfinal.
Calgary was quickly swept in the first round in 2018 followed by a five-game upset at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche after topping the Western Conference in 2019.
The Flames exited the first round two years ago when they squandered a 3-0 lead to lose 7-3 in Game 6 to Dallas.
Calgary hasn't made it past the second round in 18 years. Sutter coached the Flames to the Stanley Cup final in 2004 when they fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games.
"That was the goal, to make the playoffs. Made the playoffs. We hadn't won a round for a long time. Won a round and kind of ran out of ammo in this round here," Sutter said.
Calgary (50-21-11) topped the Pacific Division in Sutter's first full season back behind the bench following his rehiring in March, 2021, with one more regulation win than Edmonton.
These Flames were constructed for a long playoff run in 2022 starting with the $6-million-a-year Markstrom in net.
Recognizing a lack of playoff experience, Flames GM Brad Treliving augmented his maturing talents — Gaudreau, Tkachuk and Lindholm were all 40-goal scorers for the first time in their careers — with Cup winners or finalists Toffoli, Coleman, Jarnkrok and Trevor Lewis.
With 28-year-old Gaudreau an unrestricted free agent this summer and 24-year-old Tkachuk entering restricted free agency, how Treliving can retain both of his top producers is the burning off-season question.
Both will command significant raises on their previous contracts after career years. Gaudreau signed a six-year, US$40.5-million contract in 2016, while Tkachuk agreed to a three-year, $21-million deal in 2019.
Also headed for unrestricted free agency are forwards Lewis, Jarnkrok and Brett Ritchie, as well as defencemen Nikita Zadorov, Erik Gudbranson and Michael Stone.
Mangiapane, a 35-goal man in the regular season, and defenceman Oliver Kylington join Tkachuk in restricted free agency.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2022.
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