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Flames' emotional effort falls flat in desert shutout by Coyotes

Nov 16, 2019; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Coyotes and Calgary Flames players fight during the second period at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-405294
Nov 16, 2019; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Coyotes and Calgary Flames players fight during the second period at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-405294

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Think about what has transpired over the last three days for the Calgary Flames.

They went through a traumatic situation, watching one of their teammates, TJ Brodie, collapse on the ice at practice Thursday and seeing his body convulse in front of them.

They were expected to hit the ice on Friday — resuming business as usual for a pre-flight practice — and head to the Arizona desert for a two-game road swing.

They were expected to be emotionally and physically ready for a 2 p.m. start time, against an opponent with a hot goalie with the second-best goals against average in the NHL heading into Saturday’s action.

These are humans with emotions; they’re not just faces on your television screen or players skating on the ice.

And while the National Hockey League is results-oriented business and no opposing team is interested in hearing excuses, there were a few factors at play in a 3-0 loss to the host Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena.

One of which was the fact the Flames were down two goals in the second period and couldn’t seem to stay hungry enough in the offensive zone to come back. By their count, they gave up only seven chances in the matinee, including David Rittich’s turnover — a failed clearing attempt that led to Derek Stepan’s gimme to open the scoring — the Coyotes’ second goal which came less than two minutes later on a defensive zone transition which morphed into a two-on-one and Carl Soderberg. The third was an empty-netter scored by Lawson Crouse with 6.6 seconds left on the clock and Rittich out of his net.

In the end, Darcy Kuemper, playing his 200th NHL game, posted a 37-save shutout.

“You never want to play from behind,” said Flames head coach Bill Peters. “I didn’t think we gave up much and they were good defensively and, obviously, they got the 2-0 lead and that makes it a tough climb and we had some good looks and we just couldn’t find it.”

The elephant in the room was obvious, although the coaching staff did what they could to limit the potential of distraction in their pre-game meetings. They had originally used a clip of Brodie in their video session — from last week’s 4-3 overtime win against the Coyotes at Scotiabank Saddledome — but Peters felt it may trigger emotions deterring them from task at hand. So they removed it from their video package.

“TJ is on our minds, for sure, and guys will be calling him and texting him (after the game) but the only time when we talked about openly is when we get asked by the media about TJ Brodie, right?” Peters said. “We lived it, we know where our hearts are, he knows that we care about him and we’re thinking about him but we’ve gotta move on also. And he’s ready to go. He’s excited.

“I know Tree talked to him, he’s feeling great. He’s expressed that he’s ready to get back in the lineup ASAP. So, I think that’ll happen. It won’t be (Sunday) but it’ll be as soon as possible.”

EMOTIONAL GAME

The Flames did rally at the end of the second period — in an old-school way — when a brawl broke out in front of Kuemper’s crease.

Gaudreau initiated things somewhat when he retaliated after Jason Demers delivered an elbow and knocked him to the ice. The Flames winger got up and cross checked the 31-year-old Coyotes defenceman to the ice — and gave him an extra shot as he was doubled over on the ice.

Tkachuk joined in, giving Demers another shove to stand up for his teammate which offended Darcy Kuemper immediately.

The 29-year-old netminder horse-collar tackled the Flames agitator to the ground and set off both teams into a full-on brawl.

“I just saw Johnny get a little elbow or a hit late and he, I think, cross-checked him back and he seemed to go down, maybe, a little bit easy,” Tkachuk said. “We were just trying to give it to him a bit and talk to him about going down easy. I didn’t like that too much. After that … I got taken out from behind with a stick and a glove, kind of choked out from behind.

“After that, it was a blur for the next 20 seconds … from an emotional standpoint, maybe it was a bit too late.”
And absolutely no one was surprised that the feisty Rittich left his crease to join in.

“(Kuemper) jumped on Johnny … all day long, I will be there like that,” Rittich said. “If a goalie is going to jump on our player, he’s going to be ready. I’m coming.”

To start the third period, the scorekeeper’s sheet was full as Gaudreau was slapped with a cross-checking penalty, Tkachuk served a four minute double-minor for roughing, and Rittich was tagged with a two-minute minor for leaving the crease.

On the other side, Demers was slapped with two for tripping, two for roughing while Kuemper was handed a double minor for roughing.

Tkachuk had a point — it was a bit too late for the emotion they should have had from the get-go, but they still had 20 minutes to do some damage.

Travis Hamonic hit the post on a three-on-two early in the third period. Prior to the brawl in the final seconds of the middle frame, Milan Lucic fed Tkachuk in front and he couldn’t slam it home while Mark Giordano was there for the second wave of pressure and couldn’t thwart Kuemper. Tobias Rieder had a glorious chance to bang one home (another dynamite save by Kuemper).

And Elias Lindholm also had a scoring opportunity in the final 30 seconds.

“It sucks (Brodie) isn’t here,” Tkachuk said. “The past few days, it’s kind of crazy … that day was tough on every one of us … we want him to be here with us in the locker-room, we’re a way better team with him here. But I know he’s at home resting and that’s where we want him to be right now is with his family … it’s in the back of our minds, so we want to try and get some wins for him.”

HOCKEY FIGHTS CANCER GAME AT GILA RIVER ARENA

A special moment occurred at the start of Saturday’s clash which was the Coyotes’ Hockey Fights Cancer game.

Eight-year-old Leighton Accardo was signed to a one-day contract with the Coyotes, and recognized for her current battle cancer. Doctors discovered a large mass in her abdomen in May of this year which spread from her liver to her lungs. She goes to chemotherapy every two weeks and has lost mobility in her right foot. The Coyotes and Bauer teamed up to make her a skate with velcro that could allow her to continue to play hockey.

Accardo was included in the Coyotes’ pre-game meeting and included in the ceremonial faceoff.

Instead of dropping the puck between Flames captain Mark Giordano and Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Larsson gave her his stick and allowed her to participate in the draw.

“(She said) I felt like I’m going to win this one so I was like, alright go for it,” Ekman-Larsson told the crowd during the first intermission. “It’s nice to do something to make sure she remembers this day.”

kanderson@postmedia.com

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