Prior to tonight, the Saddledome faithful hadn’t seen postseason hockey since 2009.
They, and their Flames, savored the return.
And what a return it was, as the Flames rode a wave of emotion — and some gritty, physical play — to a 4-2 victory over Vancouver in Game 3 of their Western Conference first round matchup.
“It really helped us out tonight,” Flames center Sean Monahan said of the fan support.
“They were unbelievable,” added fellow forward Michael Ferland.
With the win, the Flames took a 2-1 lead in the series.
That win was also Calgary’s first in the playoffs at the Saddledome since defeating Chicago 6-4 in April of 2009. Back then, Mike Keenan was the coach and Jarome Iginla was the club’s veteran leader — a far cry from tonight, which further illustrated that Calgary’s youth movement isn’t just underway.
Sam Bennett, the 18-year-old playing in just his fourth NHL contest, scored what proved to be the game winner just 2:14 into the third period. Bennett, the fourth overall pick at the 2014 draft, notched his second point in three playoff games and helped solidify himself as a major contributor for a Calgary team that received plenty of support from the kids tonight.
Monahan, 20, scored an insurance marker for his first goal of the series. T.J. Brodie, 24, led the Flames with two points (1G, 1A). Ferland, 22, led all skaters with a game-high nine hits.
“They had a good forecheck. That’s the bottom line,” Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins said. “They got on our D. I thought they played physical all night. We turned over the first goal on the wall, where we couldn’t get it out. They did a good job on us.
“We have to be better. We weren’t good enough. We know that.”
Ferland’s ferocity embodied how the Flames played for most of the evening. They out-hit Vancouver 33-18 on the night and seemed to feed off a frenzied home crowd. They also carried over the emotion from the end of Game 2, when a wild brawl ended with over 130 minutes in penalties; Kris Russell squared off with Alex Burrows late in tonight’s third period, followed by a tilt between Ferland and Kevin Bieksa.
(Burrows was given an instigator penalty for his antics with Russell, and could be subjected to further discipline from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. Dan Hamhuis could also be getting a call for a headshot on Bennett in the third period.)
As for Vancouver, tonight might prove a wake-up call. The Canucks controlled proceedings at Rogers Arena on Friday night but were unable to do the same this evening, and often looked to be the older, slower and less energetic team. If there was a bright spot, it was that some secondary scorers — Shawn Matthias and Jannik Hansen — scored their first goals of the series.
But that might be it, as far as silver linings go. Sunday night was all about Calgary.
The Flames made a pair of lineup changes tonight: Tyler Wotherspoon drew in on defense for Corey Potter, while Mason Raymond played up front in place of Markus Granlund… Eddie Lack stopped 23 of 27 shots for Vancouver, Jonas Hiller stopped 23 of 25 for the Flames… It was another busy third period for the scorekeepers tonight, as the two teams combined for 57 PIM in the final frame.