Calgary is one of the hottest teams in the NHL. The Flames sit atop the Pacific division with 97 points and have real aspirations of making a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Sharks are in many ways the opposite. They’ve already been mathematically eliminated from a playoff spot and sit second-to-last in the Pacific with just 67 points, only ahead of the floundering expansion team Seattle.
Yet for most of the year, San Jose has had Calgary’s number. The Sharks won the previous three meetings between the teams this season and were looking to complete the series sweep Thursday night. San Jose was the only team in the NHL the Flames had yet to earn a point from this season, but it finally came over the weekend in a 4-2 victory.
Calgary traveled to the Shark Tank on April 7 looking for redemption, but it wasn’t going to be easy in the second game of a back-to-back against a well-rested San Jose team. The Sharks also had some extra motivation to play for: General manager Doug Wilson, who led the team for 19 years, stepped down earlier that morning.
Puck drop was just after 7:30 pm following a touching video tribute to Wilson. The Sharks looked to win one more game for him over a team they’ve dominated all season long. The realities of a matchup between two teams at opposing ends of the standings soon set in, though.
The Flames opened the scoring midway through the first after Matthew Tkachuk capitalized on a giveaway at the San Jose blue line, walking in alone on James Reimer and roofing a wrist shot past his outstretched glove.
The Sharks responded right back after the puck took an odd deflection off Nick Bonino’s skate and into the net to knot the game at 1.
But with under one minute to go in the first period, Calgary scored a backbreaker, as Trevor Lewis drove hard at the net from the left and jammed the puck past Reimer’s right pad. The goal seemed to deflate SAP Center and the Sharks, giving the Flames a late lead to take into the intermission that they’d never surrender.
The second period was another fairly even one, though Calgary expanded on its lead after a beautiful drop pass from Tkachuk to Elias Lindholm, who stepped into a wrister and rifled it top shelf over Reimer. Calgary held a narrow two-goal lead heading into the third, but San Jose would not go away.
Just over five minutes into the period and seconds after a Sharks power play expired, a sharp angle shot from Timo Meier glanced off Logan Couture’s leg and into the net to cut the deficit to one.
After that, the Sharks smelled blood in the water and pressed hard for the equalizer, with great zone time and several quality looks. They pulled their goalie with under two minutes to go but couldn’t tie things up, and Lindholm scored his second of the night on an empty net to secure a 4-2 win for the Flames.
Calgary’s starting goalie Jacob Markstrom, who leads the league in shutouts, had the night off after playing in Anaheim the day before. Backup Dan Vladar was called into action and gave a performance that, if fans didn’t know any better, would have them thinking that he was the Flames’ star.
“He was awesome tonight and was probably the main reason we won,” Tkachuk said.
Vladar stood on his head with 31 saves and kept Calgary’s lead when the Sharks were pressing hard. The other turning point for the Flames was their elite top line of Tkachuk, Lindholm and Johnny Gaudreau.
The trio combined for three of Calgary’s four goals and set some major milestones on the night. Gaudreau’s two assists helped him match his career high of 99 points, Tkachuk tied his career high in goals at 34 and Lindholm’s two goals brought his scoring total up to 38 – the most for a Flames player in more than a decade.
“That’s the top line statistically in the league,” said San Jose head coach Bob Boughner. “They do that to every team every night and that’s why they’re the top-producing offensive line in the league.”
Great play from Calgary’s stars and solid goaltending led the team to victory in San Jose. If the Flames can keep it up, it could be a recipe for more success as the regular season comes to a close and the playoffs begin.
Benjamin Coleman is a deputy sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].