Flames’ prolific trio continues to lead charge for Pacific Division crown
SAN JOSE – Minutes after tying a career-high with 99 points on the season, Johnny Gaudreau played it straight.
“It’s cool but it’s just a number,” he shrugged, before being pressed into answering whether 100 is just a number too.
“Nah, it would be a little different,” he added while breaking into a grin.
“Obviously just came shy there a couple years ago. Unless I have the worst 12 games of my career coming up, it will be nice to kind of do that for once.”
The motivation is there to see just how much further he can climb past the century mark, as every goal and assist seems to directly correlate to Flames wins.
He’s that important to his team.
Suffice it to say, as the league’s most prolific trio, things are going very well for the first place Flames these days.
But the job isn’t done, as the coach and players continually remind anyone who asks.
“At the end of the day there’s still a ton of motivation – more motivation than we’ve ever had,” said Tkachuk, who tied a career-high with his 34th goal as part of yet another three-point night.
“Edmonton is right on our tails here and we want home ice, and we want it for as long as we can. We made the mistake of not playing our best going into the playoffs in year’s past and we don’t want to make that same mistake this time.”
The reference is to the 2018-19 season when the conference-winning Flames struggled to stay motivated over the final dozen games, only to meet an untimely demise against a surging Avalanche squad in five games.
Gaudreau’s scoring pace slowed down late that season and it may have cost him a spot as a Hart Trophy finalist. (He finished fourth).
This year the NHL’s fourth-leading scorer is pressing hard to finish even higher in the voting, by focusing on adding points to the win column.
Meanwhile, the coach continues to impress in every way possible this group has yet to accomplish anything yet.
A two-point effort by Gaudreau and a two-goal night by Lindholm were all kick-started by Tkachuk’s unassisted goal seven minutes in to lead the team to its third win in California over the last four nights.
This one was a 4-2 triumph backstopped by backup Dan Vladar who made 31 stops in the team’s very first win in four tries against the Sharks.
It was the first game in nine outings Jacob Markstrom was given a rest.
They got the job done with half of their regular blueline, as Sutter sat Nikita Zadorov and Erik Gudbranson, replacing them with Juuso Valimaki and Michael Stone.
Connor Mackey made his season debut by jumping onto the second pairing with Chris Tanev.
“I thought Connor served us really well,” said Sutter.
“Some work to do with the other guys.”
No matter, as the big boys stole the show. Again.
“Awesome,” said Sutter, when informed Gaudreau matched his career mark.
“He’s still got 10 or 11 games (to go). As long as they’re big points. Game-winners.”
Lindholm’s two goals gave him a team-leading 38 on the season, including his eighth game-winner.
All told the trio has 23 game-deciding snipes to lead the league – that’s more than half the team’s win total of 43.
Lindholm’s empty-netter marked the 18th time this year all three were in on the same goal – another league-high.
All three tacked on three more strokes above par when it comes to their league-leading plus-minuses, as Gaudreau is a ridiculous plus-54.
“They play in a lot of important situations,” said Sutter, who had them out on the ice for the final minute, as he did a night earlier in a 3-2 win in Anaheim.
“There’s a lot of guys who score goals and get points, but they’re not big ones. They’re not situational goals. As a line, their goals for and against are significant.
“If he was a 100-point game and he was a minus player we wouldn’t be in a playoff spot. And being a playoff team is our goal.”
The goal is looking good, as the win kept the Flames six points up on Edmonton with a game in hand and 11 remaining.
Will we see more nights like these where a good chunk of the team’s depth players are rotated out of the lineup to start healing up for, um, spring?
“Four of the guys who didn’t play tonight were either sick or banged up,” said Sutter, whose club also had Adam Ruzicka and Calle Jarnkrok out of the lineup.
“After the deadline, I’m being polite to answer your questions about guys who are sick or injured. After the deadline, that’s not a question I like answering – all that is is telling someone else what is going on.”