Wolf’s clutch save sparks Flames to victory over defending champs

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If Ivan Barbashev buries on that breakaway, if Dustin Wolf doesn’t come up with this clutch save at this crucial moment, you’re reading a much different column.

Calgary Flames glue guy Blake Coleman, who would snipe the winning goal 13 seconds later and 180 feet away, admitted as much after Thursday’s 4-1 victory over the defending champion Vegas Golden Knights at the Saddledome.

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“The game maybe ends completely different if Wolfie doesn’t make that save,” Coleman told a circle of reporters in a happy home locker-room.

“That was the turning point, I thought, for sure,” echoed Flames head coach Ryan Huska. “You don’t like seeing that happen. It was a bit of a tough change on our part, but (Wolf) bailed us out. And then for us to go right back down and score, it was the difference in the game, in my opinion.”

It certainly was.

While there were plenty of positives Thursday from the home side, a tight-checking, tooth-and-nail type of affair was ultimately decided in that 13-second span.

Barbashev had slipped behind the defence duo of MacKenzie Weegar and Daniil Miromanov, cruising in alone with a golden opportunity to break a third-period deadlock.

He tried the ol’ backhand-forehand deke. The 22-year-old Wolf, recalled from the minors earlier this week due to an injury to Jacob Markstrom, barely flinched before punching aside the shot with his blocker.

While the Golden Knights’ forward retrieved his own rebound, Coleman swatted that puck away to cue the counterattack.

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At the opposite end, Nazem Kadri fired wide but won a battle along the end-boards and chopped a pass out front. Coleman cleaned up from there, although it wasn’t the bar-down beauty that he was claiming in his post-game media scrum.

“It feels good, obviously,” Wolf beamed after his third victory — in seven starts so far — at the NHL level. “That’s the game of hockey, right? You get a save at one end and a goal at the other. That happens more often than you think. A pretty pivotal moment in the game where I was just trying to stay as dialled in as I could, and things just worked out perfect.”

Sure did.

Calgary Flames vs. Vegas Golden Knights
Calgary Flames forward Mikael Backlund escapes the fray heading for the Vegas Golden Knights’ crease at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Thursday, March 14, 2024. Photo by Brent Calver /Postmedia

That dandy denial on Barbashev ranked as the best of Wolf’s slate of 28 saves.

While the Golden Knights weren’t exactly thrilled with their performance, Calgary’s rookie netminder didn’t give up any freebies. He outduelled Adin Hill, no small feat.  

“He made the big saves when we needed ’em,” Coleman praised. “It never looked like (Barbashev) even had a chance. He stayed right with him. He looked very confident tonight. Sometimes, when your goalie shows that level of confidence, it goes right through the group. We come right back down and Naz makes a good play and I go top corner and we’re up 2-1.”

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Huska was adamant afterward that “this wasn’t a one-person night,” and the rest of the dudes, no doubt, deserve a big heap of credit.

But if their prized puck-stopping prospect doesn’t stop Barbashev on that breakaway, we could be talking close call instead of comeback triumph. After they’d followed the trade deadline with three straight blowout losses, what Coleman described as “an embarrassing 72 hours for our team,” a near-miss wasn’t going to do much to turn the mood.

It was a personal bounce-back for Wolf, too. The AHL’s reigning MVP had nearly a month to stew about being shelled for six in his last start at the NHL level.

Calgary Flames vs. Vegas Golden Knights
Calgary Flames center Jonathan Huberdeau battles Golden Knights left wing William Carrier during the third period at the Saddledome in Calgary on Thursday, March 14, 2024. Brent Calver/Postmedia Photo by Brent Calver /Postmedia

“We were all pretty disappointed with the way the last few games went,” said Coleman, who scored his second of the evening into an empty net. “We have had some good look-in-the-mirror meetings here in the last 24 hours and I thought everybody, to a man, responded really well.

“Our response to losing some guys, some friends, maybe wasn’t the best and we got slapped pretty hard for not showing up and being our best. At the end of the day, if you have pride and you get beat up like that, you better respond or you don’t really belong in this league. We have a lot of guys that were not happy with the last few games and everybody stepped up and was much better.”

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“The team was excellent out there, from start to finish,” agreed Wolf, who worked 20 minutes of mop-up in Tuesday’s 6-2 shellacking from the Colorado Avalanche. “A much more complete game than what we have seen the last couple. They let me see pucks. And if I can see pucks, I’m going to stop most of ’em.”

On this night, as fans filed to the exits, there’s one stop that everybody was talking about.

As Barbashev was cruising in alone, the Saddledome was silent.

Thirteen seconds later, as Coleman raised his arms at the opposite end, the rink was rocking.

While the Flames remain eight points out of the final wildcard, chasing a snowball’s chance, these sort of sequences provide optimism through a retool.

The Flames needed to ended a three-game skid. They needed a save.

Wolf, their goalie-of-the-future, delivered.

“He’s full of big saves,” said rookie right-winger Matt Coronato, who provided some insurance with five minutes to go, polishing off a sweet feed from fellow call-up Dryden Hunt. “And that was a huge one.”

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Calgary Flames vs. Vegas Golden Knights
Calgary Flames defenceman Rasmus Andersson battles Vegas Golden Knights forward Ivan Barbashev at the Saddledome in Calgary on Thursday, March 14, 2024. Photo by Brent Calver /Postmedia

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