The Calgary Flames haven’t won a playoff round since 2004 — the year they last went to the Stanley Cup final.
Now, they’re just one victory away from moving on.
Calgary pushed Vancouver to the edge of elimination on Wednesday night, scoring a 3-1 win at the Saddledome to take a commanding three games to one lead in the opening-round series. Jiri Hudler’s first-period tally proved to be the decisive goal as the Flames did all their damage in the opening frame — three goals on seven shots, chasing Canucks goalie Eddie Lack in the process — before shutting down the Canucks over the final 40 minutes of action.
For Vancouver, it was a forgettable evening.
After losing veteran winger Alex Burrows (broken rib) in the morning skate, the club also dropped banged-up forward Brad Richardson from the lineup, giving Linden Vey and Brandon McMillan their series debuts. Both were largely ineffective, though hardly to blame for what was an erratic effort — and a second period in which the Canucks put just three shots on goal.
Vancouver’s vaunted penalty kill, which finished second in the NHL (85.7 percent) during the regular season, failed to silence Calgary’s big guns as Johnny Gaudreau and Hudler both scored with the man advantage in the first period. All told, the Flames now have four power play goals through four games.
And while Calgary wasn’t as aggressive as it was in Game 3 — the Flames out-hit Vancouver 33-18 — there was still a noticeable physical edge on Tuesday night as the Flames had 29 hits to Vancouver’s 18. Michael Ferland continued to wreak havoc on the forecheck while 18-year-old Sam Bennett, playing in just his fifth NHL game, continued to provide a valuable net-front presence and scored his second goal of the series with under a minute left in the first period.
“It’s his grit. Eighteen years old and playing in the NHL playoffs with so much character,” Flames coach Bob Hartley said of Bennett. “It’s pretty amazing. He went to the net and the hockey gods rewarded him.
“What he brings, his determination, his grist, his passion, that’s what you need in the playoffs. This kid is full of character.”
Henrik Sedin scored his first goal — and Vancouver’s lone goal — on the power play midway through the opening frame. It was just the Canucks’ second goal on the man advantage this series.
The Canucks actually dominated possession at even strength. It was translating that possession into scoring chances where they struggled, as the Flames blocked 29 shots on the night.
“They’re collapsing quite a bit,” said Canucks coach Willie Desjardins. “I think we’ve got to use our points. They collapse and they’re just making it hard to get to the net.”
With Game 4 now in the books, the two teams will meet again on Thursday at Rogers Arena and, by then, will be pretty well versed in 3-1 series leads. According to WhoWins.com, teams that go up 3-1 win the series 91 percent of the time… with 56 percent of those decided in Game 5.
Miller made his Canucks playoff debut and performed well, stopping all 15 shots faced in his first game action since a 6-5 OT win over Edmonton in the season finale… Jonas Hiller stopped 27 of 28 shots and has now allowed just seven goals in this series… Hudler and Dennis Wideman led the Flames with two points each.