Calgary Flames

Stayin’ Alive: Canucks stage comeback of their own, send series back to Calgary

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VANCOUVER — The Canucks fought to play another day.

In one of its hardest-working and most determined efforts of the opening round, Vancouver beat Calgary 2-1 on Thursday in Game 5, staving off elimination while sending the series back to the Saddledome trailing three games to two.

“I thought from the get-go, the whole team had a good game,” Daniel Sedin said. “These are fun games to be a part of. It’s do or die and we played a solid 60 minutes.

“It was probably our best game of the series.”

Sedin scored the game-winner just 1:47 into the third period. Nick Bonino had netted the equalizer midway through the game — after trailing for nearly 30 minutes — as Vancouver gave the Flames a bit of their own medicine from Game 1, when the Flames trailed for the majority of the contest and scored the winner in the final frame.

As they’ve done for most of the series, the Canucks controlled 5-on-5 possession. They’re hoping that will pay dividends.

“They have to get tired (from) all the zone time and shots and protecting down low. I think it should pay off,” Sedin said. “But it’s a new game Saturday. We’re going to have to bring it again.”

As you’d expect in a 2-1 game, both goalies played a major role. Jonas Hiller was outstanding in the Calgary net, making 41 saves while Ryan Miller, making his first playoff start as a Canuck, stopped 20 of 21 shots.

“They ran the system really well, we were great on the PK late,” Miller said of his Canuck teammates. “All the credit to the guys in front of me.”

The Flames will likely be disappointed in their inability to close things out, and won’t like tonight’s disparity in zone play. That said, they’re still in relatively good shape and have another opportunity to close out the series on Saturday at home.

“It’s all about our character,” Flames head coach Bob Hartley said. “Once again we’re facing adversity, but that’s what we’ve done all year. Our young players have done well, our veterans are used to it.”

The Canucks, meanwhile, will be buoyed by tonight’s performance and a stingy defensive effort in front of Miller, who broke from his normally stoic demeanor in the post-game celebration, enthusiastically hyping up the Vancouver crowd.

There’s a long way to go from 3-1 down, but the Canucks make a significant move in that direction tonight.

Notes…

Bonino scored his first playoff goal as a Canuck and now has three points in his last four games… The 43 shots on goal were easily Vancouver’s most of the series, eclipsing the previous high of 32 in Game 2… T.J. Brodie led all skaters with 27:21 TOI, while Dennis Wideman finished second with 27:01.

Poll: Who would get your vote for the Calder Trophy?

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This year’s Calder Trophy race was close enough that there’s no one right answer to the question of who was this year’s Rookie of the Year. We now know that Florida’s Aaron Ekblad, Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau, and Ottawa’s Mark Stone are the finalists, but an argument could be made that Filip Forsberg with the Nashville Predators or John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars were also worthy of being on that list.

Then there’s St. Louis Blues goaltender Jake Allen and Winnipeg Jets netminder Michael Hutchinson. They both played important roles for their respective clubs this season in a critical position. Should either of them have been given more consideration?

You can vote for your pick for the Calder Trophy below:

Of course, there’s one major first year player that’s gone unmentioned. Ottawa Senators goaltender Andrew Hammond wasn’t eligible for Calder Trophy consideration because the 27-year-old was too old. Even if he was eligible, it’s hard to say if he would have been a finalist. On the one hand he had a dominant 1.79 GAA and .941 save percentage, but he only played in 24 contest.

So as a bonus, would you have considered Hammond as worthy of winning the Calder Trophy if he was eligible?

For a more detailed rundown of what each rookie did: Tight Calder Trophy race down to Ekblad, Gaudreau, Stone

Tight Calder Trophy race down to Ekblad, Gaudreau, Stone

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This year featured a tight race for the Calder Trophy with several candidates worthy of being called the Rookie of the Year. However, only one can win and tonight we learned that the three candidates are Florida’s Aaron Ekblad, Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau, and Ottawa’s Mark Stone.

At this point it’s not surprising to see Gaudreau’s name on the list of Calder Trophy finalists, but going into the season there was a lot of skepticism about him. He was the 2014 Hobey Baker Award winner after scoring an incredible 80 points in 40 NCAA contests with Boston College, so obviously he had potential offensively, but there were concerns about the 5-foot-9 forward’s ability to adjust to the NHL given his size. Aware of that perception, he reached out to other undersized forwards like Martin St. Louis before the start of the season to get their advice.

“I’ve just got to make sure I follow in their footsteps and do what they’ve been doing,” Gaudreau said back in July. He’s taken a great first step by scoring 24 goals and 64 points in 80 contests with the Calgary Flames.

Out of all the rookies that stepped up this season, Mark Stone was perhaps the biggest surprise. Originally taken in the sixth round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Stone had to hone his game in the minors before being able to earn a regular spot with Ottawa. He got off to a solid start this season, but it wasn’t until Dave Cameron took over as the team’s bench boss that his playing time grew substantially. He repaid Cameron’s trust by scoring 15 goals and 38 points in 36 contests after the All-Star break. No other rookie even came close to matching Stone’s pace during that stretch and if the NHL season was just a few weeks longer, he might have been regarded as the undisputed favorite for this year’s rookie honors.

As it is Stone still ended up tying Gaudreau for first place in the scoring race.

Unlike Stone or Gaudreau, Aaron Ekblad managed to jump straight into the NHL after being drafted. While that’s pretty much the standard for a first overall selection, it is still very rare to see a defenseman be this effective as a teenager. He had 12 goals and 39 points in 81 contests while also leading the Panthers with a plus-12 rating. Perhaps the most impressive thing about him though is the level of trust he earned with the Panthers, as evidenced by his average of 21:48 minutes per contest.

Of course in a year with this many strong rookie seasons, there’s bound to be snubs and Filip Forsberg arguably tops that list.

The Nashville Predators have been hurting for a top-end skilled forward for a while and their search seems to be over. Although Forsberg needed to spend the 2013-14 campaign adjusting to North America hockey after playing predominantly in Sweden prior to that, he hit the ground running this season with 14 goals and 35 points in 36 contests by New Year’s Day. At one point he looked like the heavy favorite to win this year’s Calder Trophy, but he slowed down somewhat in the second half and consequently finished a close third in the scoring race with 63 points in 82 contests.

John Klingberg is another big snub. He didn’t make his NHL debut until Nov. 11, but he still led all rookie defensemen in scoring. The 22-year-old had 11 goals and 40 points in 65 contests while making the transition from Sweden. Stars GM Jim Nill was so impressed by Klingberg that he handed the blueliner a seven-year, $29.75 million contract despite the relatively small sample size. So while he won’t get the Calder, his efforts were far from unrecognized.

Facing elimination, Canucks turn to Ryan Miller

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Two periods of “clean” and “calm” goaltending have earned Ryan Miller the start for the Vancouver Canucks when they try to stave off elimination tonight against the Flames.

Miller replaced Eddie Lack Tuesday, stopping all 15 shots he faced in the 3-1 loss.

“He’s been in big games before, but the biggest thing is how he played in Calgary. I thought he looked really sharp,” Canucks coach Willie Desjardins said this morning.

“He just made some clean saves. They had some good chances. We were pressing, so we gave up some clear-cut chances, and I thought he was really clean on quite a few of his saves. And he looked calm, too.”

The risk is that Miller has only played five periods of hockey since getting hurt in February. The 34-year-old conceded yesterday that he was still recovering from the sprained knee he suffered on Long Island two months ago.

And certainly Lack has not been the reason Vancouver finds itself trailing the series 3-1. Only one of the three goals he surrendered in Game 4 — the third one, by Sam Bennett — could be categorized as bad.

Desjardins said it wasn’t an easy decision.

“Eddie’s played really great for us,” he said. “He did a great job down the stretch.”

But now it’s up to Miller, the free agent the Canucks signed to a three-year, $18 million contract this past summer.

“I think playoffs always comes down to goaltending,” said Desjardins. “If you get great goaltending, you always have a chance.”

Related: Baertschi to play Game 5; Burrows out for series

Hartley not worried about big ice times — ‘I’m not coaching a nursing home’

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Dennis Wideman has averaged 27:15.

T.J. Brodie has only logged a bit less, at 26:43.

Ditto for Kris Russell, at 26:37.

And there hasn’t even been overtime.

So, is Bob Hartley worried he’s tiring out his three top defensemen?

Of course not.

“We’re coaching elite athletes — I’m not coaching a nursing home,” the Flames coach said yesterday, per the Calgary Herald. “Those guys are well-conditioned athletes. Our total team game and our conditioning allow us to play those guys. I really believe those minutes are blown way out of proportion.

“You know, we’re getting so many stats right now. Pretty soon the manager of the arena is going to come and tell me how many cases of beer were sold after the first, second, third periods. It has to stop.”

Hartley’s player deployment stands in stark contrast to that of Vancouver coach Willie Desjardins, whose biggest workhorse has been defenseman Alex Edler (23:36) and who’s taken all sorts of heat for not playing the Sedins enough.

If the Flames can defeat (and eliminate) the Canucks tonight in Vancouver, Hartley’s troops will get a good rest before the start of the second round.

“We’re in the business to win games,” he said. “My mindset, my philosophy? If I have to play five guys the full 60 minutes to win the game, I will do it.”