CALGARY - The Calgary Flames had the Oilers right where they wanted them — bogged down in Saddledome muck.
Wanting no part of an exciting, fast-packed shootout, the veteran Flames succeeded Tuesday in dragging Edmonton into their claustrophobic web — a don’t-give-an-inch, don’t-make-a-mistake, defensive quagmire.
What they struggled with was finishing them off.
For 55 nervous minutes the Oilers were actually beating the Flames at their own game, frustrating Calgary every bit as much as they were being frustrated themselves, and leading 1-0 with time running out.
But right when it looked like the Oilers might pull this thing off, they let their guard down for 89 seconds and they were done.
Flames defenceman Jay Bouwmeester tied it at 14:03 with his first goal in 44 games and Alex Tanguay made it 2-1 at 15:32 and just like that it was over.
Calgary wins for the 13th time in the last 14 games.
“For the most part I thought we played a pretty solid game,” said defenceman Cam Barker, before a dejected band of Oilers headed for the airport. “We did all the things we wanted to, but you can’t let down, especially on the road.
“Their last goal was kind of flukey, but they work for their breaks, they crash the net hard. That’s what we were doing, too, but we didn’t get rewarded.”
It would have been Edmonton’s most impressive victory of the season. Anybody can win when the boys are flying and the goals are flowing. Winning on the road when the other guys won’t let you breathe, clinging to a 1-0 lead all night ... that’s tough.
Apparently a little too tough for the Oilers just yet, but they’re not as far away as some might have thought.
A team that was supposed to be young and mistake-prone with a mediocre defence and questionable netminding, the Oilers held their opponents to one goal in three of their five games this year and very nearly beat the Flames at Flames hockey.
“Maybe a year ago we wouldn’t have been able to do it, but we went after this win,” said head coach Tom Renney. “As grinding and as ugly as it was, we really worked hard to try and get ourselves two points. That’s a credit to our guys in as much as you can suggest that when you lose.”
It was ugly all right, just the way Calgary likes it. Just the kind of game the Oilers aren’t supposed to be any good at.
“You’re going to have to win games 1-0,” said Barker. “We have to feel comfortable with that, we don’t have to win 4-1 or 5-1. The more familiar we get with our systems and the more we trust each other on the ice the better our game is going to get.”
The Oilers youngsters, who were so dynamic in the last two games, had their hands full against a veteran, tight-checking Flames team with last change.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle weren’t the same without winger Taylor Hall, who flew back to Edmonton before the game to treat a flu.
None of the Oilers could really get anything going offensively. They had seven shots in the first period and just two through the first 17 minutes of the second.
“There are still ways to win those games,” said captain Shawn Horcoff, who played 22:22 (more than any other forward in the game), took 20 of Edmonton’s 39 faceoffs and assisted on Tom Gilbert’s power play goal 6:42 into the first period.
“You can’t just quit and spin your wheels, you have to continue to press forward and have to be able sustain at least some sort of forecheck at times to give our D some rest and we weren’t able to do that with enough lines tonight.”