The Calgary Flames had a three-goal lead and seemed on their way to reaching Game 7 of the Western Conference First Round against the Dallas Stars.
Seven goals allowed later, the Flames’ season was over.
Goalie Cam Talbot took the blame after allowing four goals on 15 shots in a 7-3 loss in Game 6 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the hub city in the West, on Thursday.
Talbot was pulled after the Stars rallied to tie the game 3-3 by 3:25 of the second period.
“It was a 3-0 hockey game for us and I’d been there all playoffs for us, and when we needed it the most, I wasn’t there,” Talbot said. “Some of the shots are obviously savable and the onus is on me there. As much as I hated getting pulled, the momentum was changing and [coach Geoff Ward] had to do something.
“Can’t say I blame him. I would have done the same thing if I was him.”
[RELATED: Complete Flames vs. Stars series coverage]
Nobody on the Flames was able to stop the Stars once they seized the momentum. Dallas, the No. 2 seed, scored seven straight goals to win a third straight game and advance to the Western Conference Second Round against the Colorado Avalanche, the No. 3 seed.
Talbot was replaced by David Rittich, who allowed three goals on nine shots over the rest of the second period, when Dallas took a 6-3 lead. It was Rittich’s first Stanley Cup Playoff appearance.
Talbot returned for the third period, allowing the seventh Dallas goal at 9:02, Denis Gurianov‘s fourth goal of the game.
Ward said he intended to give Talbot a short break when he pulled him, but an equipment issue prevented the goalie from returning quickly.
“No, I don’t think I made a mistake,” Ward said. “Originally the plan was to get him out, get him refocused and get him back in. The goals were a little bit unfortunate and I just felt like we needed to change momentum, and that was the initial thought on how to do it.”
While the Stars’ five-goal second period was unfolding, the Flames said they felt almost powerless to stop it.
“We just couldn’t stop the bleeding in the second, put ourselves in a tough spot going to the third,” Calgary forward Mikael Backlund said. “But yeah, very good first period, for sure our best first period [in the] playoffs. It came at the right time. It’s too bad we can’t manage to follow it up. It’s tough.”
The Flames looked like they were going to play Game 7 on Saturday. They got goals from forwards Andrew Mangiapane and Johnny Gaudreau and defenseman Rasmus Andersson in the first 6:34 of the first period.
It is the sixth time a team has led 3-0 in the first period then lost a series-ending game, the first since the Vancouver Canucks lost to Calgary 7-4 in Game 6 of the 2015 Western Conference First Round.
“I thought the first 10 minutes, probably our best start of the playoffs,” Flames captain Mark Giordano said. “I thought we were executing. We got out to the lead and then it’s early in the game so you know they’re going to have a push, and they did. Give them credit, they put pucks to the net but they got some deflections that went in that other nights wouldn’t go in … and then once they got some momentum, it sort of snowballed on us.
“That’s on us, as team we started to sit back too much in the second.”
Giordano said he will not be pointing a finger at Talbot, who had a .927 save percentage in the first five games of the series.
“He’s the reason why we’re here,” Giordano said. “How many games did he win for us in this little run we had? Right back to [the Winnipeg Jets] (the Flames won the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifier), to the 2-0 game in this series that he stole for us. My view was nothing more than a few tough bounces. I was happy to see [Talbot] get the third [period] because he deserves to go right back in there to battle with us because he’s been our best player for the entire playoffs.”
Ward said sometimes the opposition gets in the way of good plans and good intentions.
“For us, the start that we had was a tremendous start,” he said. “We got to where we wanted. We had points in the hockey game where we pressed hard and pucks didn’t fall for us. Maybe if one or two of them do, we find ourselves back in the hockey game again and it’s tight. I really felt like we could come back until the seventh goal went in.
“It’s easy now to sit there and try to find where this went wrong, where that went wrong. I’m not going to speculate on things that way. Our job as a team is to pick each other up. Our job as a team is to manage moments, and the one unfortunate thing about losing sometimes is you can’t always control how you lose.”