Calgary Flames searching for open ice in playoff series with Dallas Stars

With real estate at a premium in the NHL playoff series between Calgary and Dallas, the Flames want to carve out more space for themselves to unlock their offence.

Calgary has fired 96 shots at Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger over the first three games with two even-strength goals and one power-play goal to show for it.

The Stars lead the low-scoring, best-of-seven conference quarterfinal 2-1 heading into Monday’s Game 4 in Dallas.

Read more: Pavelski scores twice for Stars in 4-2 win over Flames to take series lead

Game 5 is Wednesday in Calgary. If necessary, Game 6 is Friday in Dallas and a Game 7 would be back in Calgary on May 15.

The Flames opened the series with a 1-0 win and a 2-0 loss at the Saddledome.

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The keys to the Stars’ 4-2 win Saturday at American Airlines Center in Game 3 was scoring their first power-play goal of the series, as well as scoring the first goal of the game four-on-four.

The Stars have rarely ceded territory in front of Oettinger for Calgary’s forwards to threaten from close range.

The Flames felt they made some inroads in that department Saturday. So did the Stars in Calgary’s end, however, and Dallas did it better with a pair of Joe Pavelski goals on rebounds.

“I think last game we took a step where we’re getting more shots and more action around their crease,” Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk said.

“Just to to do that early and get the lead, it seems like the team that gets the first goal that’s playing with the lead has got a very good chance to win the game. I think the start is very important for us.”

Read more: Calgary Flames’ Blake Coleman relishes post season homecoming

Both sides had four power-play chances Saturday. Calgary outshot Dallas 13-4 with a man advantage, but the Stars converted one of their chances into Pavelski’s winning goal.

Flames head coach Darryl Sutter says working for an extra foot or half-foot of room around the net is preferable to a barrage of shots Oettinger can track.

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“Our accuracy and a lot of the stuff we do has to be better, our passing and around the net with the puck,” Sutter said. “It’s one thing to shoot it and things like that, but the other thing is to score and there’s a difference there.

“When you say that about the real-estate part of it, that means things are happening faster, or it’s harder to get there, so that means you might have to do just a better job with the puck. It’s tight, yeah.”

Led by goaltender Jacob Markstrom and a 1-for-11 penalty kill, the Flames haven’t given up a lot in their own end either.

But with three goals in three games, the wily 37-year-old Pavelski was able to find the quiet spaces on the ice the Flames have not.

Markstrom has given Calgary a chance to win every game with a save percentage of .942. The NHL post-season debut of the unflappable 23-year-old Oettinger has been stellar.

“He’s not scared in the moment. He’s not scared of the ball. He wants it,” Stars forward Tyler Seguin said.

Read more: Campbell makes 32 saves, Maple Leafs beat Lightning to take series lead

“It’s been a brawl out there. It’s been a great series, obviously a low-scoring event. I don’t know how it looks on TV or Twitter. It might be boring like we talk about a lot here in Dallas, but we’ll take wins.”

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Flames fans will bemoan Johnny Gaudreau not elevating the puck enough on a breakaway with three and a half minutes remaining Saturday.

“I tried to get it under the blocker and above the pad, but just didn’t get it up,” Gaudreau said.

“I would like to score with two minutes left to tie the game up there, but had a lot of chances last night with five, six shots. A couple of them were pretty Grade A opportunities.

“I’m happy I’m getting those looks and I’ll find the net there eventually, but you want that one back for sure.”

The top line of Gaudreau, Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm, all 40-goal scorers in the regular season, mustered a combined 13 shots Saturday on Oettinger. The trio combined to score Calgary’s first two goals of the series.

It was the Flames’ fourth line _ with the burly Milan Lucic creating net-front traffic for Trevor Lewis _ that has scored one of Calgary’s two even-strength goals so far this series.

“Everybody always wants to talk about your goal scorers and that’s fine, but it’s got to be through your lineup,” Sutter said. “It just can’t be on one player, that’s for sure.”

The teams have played almost 16 minutes of four-on-four over Games 2 and 3. That doesn’t play into Calgary’s strengths as the Flames ranked sixth in the NHL in five-on-five goals during the regular season.

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“I think it’s seven in the series now, which is really rare. It would take you 20 games to get that many four-on-fours in the regular season,” said Sutter, who added that he spoke to NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom about it Saturday morning.

“I think they can handle those situations and I think both teams would want to handle it better. Bottom line is, playoff time, if you’re in there after the whistle, what’s it for? So now there’s 10 guys in there and if they want to take two guys, if they want to do that, you’re just hurting the team.”

Stars captain Jamie Benn was fined US$5,000 for high-sticking Andrew Mangiapane in Saturday’s second period. No penalty was called on the play.

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