Unable to catch up with any of his former Flames teammates before the game, Mark Giordano made sure they saw plenty of him once the contest started.
They saw him in the corners, after the whistle and, of course, on the scoresheet where the Calgary-turned-Seattle captain marked his first game against his former mates with a goal and two assists on Thursday.
“It felt good, I’m not going to lie,” said Giordano of his game-opening goal during a first intermission interview with Sportsnet’s Ryan Leslie.
“Chippy game so far, I love it. It takes all the other BS out of the game with me playing my old team. Guys are into it, it’s good.”
Anyone else thinking about how fascinating it would be if Giordano could finish the evening with a Gordie Howe hat trick?
— Eric Francis (@EricFrancis) December 31, 2021
All that misty-eyed BS aside, no one was surprised Giordano’s legendary work ethic and will were driving forces in the Kraken’s ability to stay in a game dominated by the Flames.
Playing for the first time in 19 days due to a COVID-19-induced shutdown before Christmas, the Flames overcame two early deficits and a disheartening goal that tied things with three minutes left before capping a wild finish with a 6-4 win.
“I hate excuses and I hate that phrase that’s going around that we’ve been off for a while,” said Matthew Tkachuk, minutes after breaking a 4-4 tie with a game-winner — the third goal in a 43-second span.
“There’s no excuse why we couldn’t come in here and put together our greatest effort of the season. Was it that? I highly doubt it, but the guys were working and we gave it all we had.”
In a game that saw the Kraken outshot 40-22, it took an Andrew Mangiapane power-play goal with 3:09 left to break a 3-3 tie.
Thirty seconds later, Jared McCann redirected a Giordano shot past Jacob Markstrom to tie the affair, setting the stage for Tkachuk’s five-hole finish 13 seconds later.
Tkachuk is right, there are no excuses for the only team in the league that can safely say the latest wave of COVID-19 is behind them.
Twenty players, as part of a total of 50 staffers and family members, have gone through it since Dec. 11, giving the team a full roster that had four practices to sharpen up for a game against one of the league’s bottom-feeders.
Nonetheless, the dramatic fashion in which the team re-started its season should serve the club well as it embarks on yet another four-game roadie starting Sunday in Chicago.
The emotion of playing their former captain did well to spur on the Flames.
“I think that’s the best way to get back into it when you’ve had such a layoff, is getting to the emotional part of the game,” said Milan Lucic, whose eighth of the year came after Johnny Gaudreau scored Calgary’s first two of the night.
“After (Giordano’s game-opening goal, we started to play a little bit mad and pissed off and our game started to build after that.”
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Coach Darryl Sutter singled out Lucic and Gaudreau for “carrying” the team at times, which is fair given the former’s physical engagement and the latter’s latest offensive brilliance, which included setting up Tkachuk’s winner.
Asked if he shared a tiny bit of the happiness Flames fans had when Giordano scored early on, Gaudreau smiled.
“I was happy for him, but at the end of the day it’s another game and he’s on the other team,” said Gaudreau.
“Honestly, he’s a great captain and I loved playing for him here. Good for him. He played well.”
Exchanging post-whistle bumps with Lucic and Mangiapane, as well as having former partner Rasmus Andersson restrain him with a headlock, the 38-year-old Giordano was front and centre throughout a 21-minute effort against a team he’d still be playing on if not for the summer expansion draft that moved him west.
Taken with the fourth-last pick in the 2019 draft, Dustin Wolf was considered a long-term project who had plenty of work ahead of him to prove his slight frame could allow him to get to the bigs.
Well, one third of the way through his first pro season, the 20-year-old made his NHL debut as the backup in Seattle, just 20 minutes from where he was a junior stud in Everett, Wash.
With backup goalie Dan Vladar deemed not ready to return to game action after getting out of COVID-19 protocol Monday, Wolf was called up from AHL Stockton where he has yet to lose in regulation in 16 starts (14-0-2).
“It’s pretty special,” said the 168-pound California native.
“To get my first call-up is obviously pretty exciting. To have family close by and, obviously, being close to Everett, I’m sure there will be a bunch of Everett fans in the building as well. It’s been an exciting couple of days and (I’m) definitely looking forward to the excitement of tonight.”
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The Flames signed Adam Werner in the off-season to be the organization’s third-string goalie, but with Wolf sporting a 1.84 GAA and .940 save percentage, the youngster forced their hand.
“This wasn’t charity, bringing him up here,” GM Brad Treliving said of the move.
“Danny couldn’t go, so the next-best goaltender gets the call. That’s Dustin. When you get to the post-Christmas break and you haven’t lost a regulation game, that’s a pretty good start.”
Added Sutter, “Goalies are just like coaches, they’re measured by their record. Good goalie.”
Expect Vladar to be back up to speed in time for the Flames’ upcoming road trip.
Just when it seemed impossible for anyone else on the Flames roster to catch Covid, the team announced Thursday morning Brett Ritchie had entered the league’s protocol. Ritchie had just returned from a lengthy lower-body injury and appeared poised to return to a line with Mangiapane and Dillon Dube before the positive test arose.
The Flames were originally expected to host Winnipeg on New Year’s Eve but the game was one of nine postponed by the league for Canadian teams looking to avoid losing millions of dollars nightly by playing in front of crowds capped at 50% that are unable to eat or drink at the rink.
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The Flames’ next game is Sunday in Chicago, kicking off a four-game road swing through both Florida stops and ending in Carolina.
The next scheduled home game is Jan. 11 against the New York Islanders.