Before consecutive third period collapses against Las Vegas and Tampa Bay, the Flames were one of the most reliable teams in the league at shutting down shop when leading after two.
What a difference a few days can make.
Flames fans, prior to Jan. 30, could rest easy with the lead going into the third, knowing their team were almost certainties to secure the win, evinced by their 89 percent winning ratio in such situations.
The Flames, who boasted a 17-0-2 record when up after two, led the Golden Knights 2-1 with 1:47 to play.
Then came Michael Frolik’s moment of madness, his wayward backward pass turning into a shot on his own netminder. Understandably caught off guard, Mike Smith was only able to push the puck back into harm’s way.
Erik Haula couldn’t believe his luck and dually obliged, punishing Frolik for his haphazardness. It’s impossible not sympathize with Frolik, who had just return from a long injury layoff. Too outrageous to avoid further punishment, it was a eureka moment that burst Calgary’s bubble.
Ten seconds later the Golden Knights scored the winner, obliterating the Flames’ unbeaten regulation record when taking a lead into the third. Calgary enjoyed an otherwise near flawless performance against the top team in the Western Conference, dictating play until that fateful moment.
Those type of heartbreaking losses are more difficult to recover from, the devastating defeat compounded by the fact the Flames had already lost four on the bounce.
Worrying third period signs against Tampa
The signs were more worrying in the third against the Lightning, symptomatic of a team devoid of confidence and assuredness. Smith, usually one of the team’s most consistent performers, looked apprehensive and unsure.
Uncharacteristically, he conceded two weak ones from bad angles in just over five minutes, turning the game in Tampa’s favour. The initial momentum shift occurred in the second when Matthew Peca halved Calgary’s lead, but it was Alex Killorn’s leveller in the third that totally deflated Glen Gulutzan’s team.
In coughing up a second successive third-period advantage, the Flames fell from 14th to 24th in holding the lead after two.
They have lost six in a row and must overcome and extinguish quickly any feelings of self-pity or skepticism. Because at this level the difference between winning and losing has a lot to do with confidence and self-belief.
The Flames have the talent, depth and skill set to make a run to the playoffs, so long as they swat sternly away the devil currently perched on their collective shoulder.
(This piece originally featured on Flame For Thought. Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)