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Flames outlast Stars in OT to seize series win, advance to second round

Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau (13) celebrates his goal with teammates during overtime NHL playoff hockey action against the Dallas Stars in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, May 15, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY — The Calgary Flames won a playoff series for just the second time in the last 17 years with Sunday's 3-2 overtime win over the Dallas Stars in the seventh and deciding game of their series.

Johnny Gaudreau scored the overtime winner at 15:09. 

He collected a rebound off an initial Elias Lindholm attempt and put a sharp-angled shot over Stars goalie Jake Oettinger, who made 61 saves in the game.

"You dream about stuff like that, scoring in a Game 7 in overtime," Gaudreau said.

The Flames will face the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference's semifinal in the first post-season Battle of Alberta since 1991. The best-of seven series opens Wednesday in Calgary.

"I've been here for nine years and never had even a sniff of a chance to play them in playoffs, so it's pretty special," Gaudreau said. "It's going to be a lot of fun, good for the province, going to be a lot of fun for them, for us. It's going to be a pretty cool series."

Tyler Toffoli and Matthew Tkachuk scored their first goals of the series for the Flames. Calgary's goalie Jacob Markstrom stopped 26 shots and had an assist in the win.

Jamie Benn and Vladislav Namestnikov scored for the Stars.

"We believed in each other,"  Benn said. "I thought we could win the series. Game 7 overtime. Was just one shot away."

After reaching the Stanley Cup final in 2004 when Calgary fell in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning — 2005 was a lockout year — the Flames didn't win another playoff series until 2015 when Calgary was bounced in the second round by Anaheim.

Calgary (50-21-11) headed into this year's playoffs the higher seed atop the Pacific Division, while Dallas (46-30-6) earned the first wild-card spot in the conference.

Playoff success scant in recent years, the Flames were under considerable pressure to win the first Game 7 in 16 years at the Saddledome in front of a sellout, and back up a stellar regular season with some post-season progress.

Gaudreau's goal was his second of the series after scoring on a penalty shot in Game 4. His assist on Tkachuk's goal was one of six.

"Johnny had a really strong series," Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said.

Calgary outshot Dallas 52-23 over three periods Sunday. Shots, missed shots and the Stars' blocked shots added up to more than 100 shot attempts by the Flames, but the score was deadlocked heading into the first overtime period of the series.

"We deserved to win," Sutter said.

Oettinger stopped Gaudreau on his doorstep near the 11-minute mark of the third, followed by Markstrom stoning Jacob Petersen on a breakaway.

The Flames drew even in the second period on Tkachuk's goal a second after a Dallas minor expired. 

Markstrom head-manned the puck to Gaudreau, who dished to Tkachuk for a sharp-angled shot top corner at 8:44.

Namestnikov made it 2-1 for Dallas just 31 seconds after Toffoli had tied the game.

Namestnikov one-timed a wrist shot by Markstrom on a lateral feed from Joe Pavelski off the rush at 2:17.

Toffoli tipped in Oliver Kylington's shot from the boards just inside the blue line at 1:46.

The Flames outshot Dallas 17-8 in the first period, but the visitors led 1-0 on Benn's goal 40 seconds after puck drop.

Tyler Seguin from the side of the net fed Benn in the mid-slot and the Stars' captain beat Markstrom stick side. 

Almost half of the 2022 edition of the Flames had never won a playoff round, while the Stars were deep in that experience having lost to the Lightning in the Cup final two years ago in Edmonton.

The series was a goaltending showcase of Markstrom and the 23-year-old Oettinger. Sutter called the latter "the best player in the series, that's for sure."

"Played a hell of a game. Haven't seen to many like that. If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't have been close to overtime," Benn said. "He's a phenomenal young goalie. He's going to be great for this organization for a long time."

On the back of a breakout playoff performance by Oettinger and punishing defence around their crease, the Stars held a high-scoring offence to 10 even-strength goals in seven games.

"They played us so hard and made us earn every inch," Tkachuk said. "It was one of the best feelings I've had in hockey when that went in for Johnny."

Markstrom saw less rubber in the series than Oettinger, but made the acrobatic, timely saves to give his team a chance to win in every game. He held off the Stars on two early chances in Sunday's extra period 

The Stars boasted more recent Game 7 experience having edged the Colorado Avalanche in overtime two years ago to reach the conference final.

But Sutter has coached an abundance of them with his 8-3 record now unmatched by any other NHL coach in wins.

"I don't get too excited about it," Sutter said. "Not many guys have done and not many get the opportunity to do it. It's what you coach for, to win series."

Dallas was without top-line centre Roope Hintz (upper-body injury) and forward Luke Glendening (lower body) for Game 7. Forward Radek Faksa (upper body) did not play Sunday's third period.

Calgary's top shutdown defenceman Chris Tanev was also scratched with an undisclosed injury. 

Calgary opened the series with a 1-0 win and a 2-0 loss at home before earning a split at American Airlines Center.

The Flames then won 2-1 at home and lost 4-2 in Dallas to send series back to Calgary for the finale. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 15, 2022.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press