CALGARY – Admit it, Flames fans:
The mind wandered.
Stymied for two straight periods by Jake Oettinger and a Dallas Stars club clinging to a 1-0 lead, the Flames entered the third period of Game 5 Wednesday on the precipice of what was starting to look like another playoff series on the brink.
And then, a spark.
Thirteen seconds into the third, Mikael Backlund opened the final frame with a scoring chance that got the fans and team amped.
What followed was a push that saw the Flames fire seven shots on goal before Backlund redirected an Andrew Mangiapane pass past Oettinger, prompting a roar that damn near forced the building of a new arena.
“It was loud,” said Backlund of the celebration seven minutes into the third period of a 1-1 game.
“I was screaming my emotions too and I don’t think anybody heard me.
“It’s also great to see all the fans outside the rink too, cheering us on. That’s awesome. The Red Lot I think they call it. It’s great to see so many people showing up.”
“It gives you a buzz to look up to see the screen and see all the fans out there.”
That’s exactly what the players were doing during the ensuing TV timeout as five thousand supporters outside the Dome were shown jumping to the music.
Minutes later, the southern part of the province joined them in dance after a streaking Mangiapane took a Backlund pass over the blue line and broke out of the doghouse with a bar-down snapper that pushed the decibel level once again.
Just like that, the switch was flipped on a series and the narrative.
“It was big,” smiled the soft-spoken Mangiapane, who played just over ten minutes the previous game.
“Obviously I was a little happy there.
“It was loud. I was excited. It was great even when Backs scored. To hear the building erupt.
The fans are waiting for a goal and it was a big goal Backs scored there.
“It kind of blew up.
“I think our whole team just fed off that energy from the fans there.”
Home ice advantage, and a whole lot of patience, paying off.
As Flames fans paced their living rooms and the concourse wondering how the momentum from Game 4 could disappear with 40 minutes of defensive dominance by the Stars, the message in the dressing room was simple:
Stick with it.
Surely, this 23-year-old kid in Dallas’ net will prove to be human eventually.
“I think a lot of guys stepped up and talked in the room and the message was clear: ‘put the period behind us and go out and play our game,’” said Backlund, who had one goal in the series going into Game 5.
“Believe. Just get back to our game, and that’s what we did in the third. Our first shift we had a scoring chance and that created energy for the group to get rolling. Great response in the third.”
A season-saving response, perhaps.
“They took it to another level and we didn’t,” said Stars coach Rick Bowness, whose club championed low-event hockey the first two periods, limiting both teams to 16 shots.
“We didn’t handle it very well. We stayed with them for two periods, obviously. They just cranked it up in the third period and we didn’t handle the puck well to give us an opportunity to spend time in their zone.”
As he was quick to point out, in Game 2 his team was able to hold onto a 1-0 lead in the third, which is why Flames fans had cause for concern.
Hours before puck drop Sutter was asked what Mangiapane needed to do to be more effective, prompting the coach to suggest he needed to stick to the structure in place.
On a night in which the 35-goal man spent some time on the third line, he scored his first of the series for the game-winner.
“Good hard game,” said Sutter, who pieced together the heroic Backlund, Mangiapane, Blake Coleman line in time for the third.
“It’s what’s expected of him. It’s not what you did, it’s what you do.
What they do now has everyone wondering both how the Stars will respond at home Friday and whether the Flames can finish it in six.
“Game 3 is a lot tougher than winning Game 2,” philosophized Sutter, whose club allowed just three shots on goal the final ten minutes before Trevor Lewis found the empty net.
“A lot of our players have never won a Game 3, so Game 4 will be a lot tougher than winning Game 3.”