By Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press
The Calgary Flames didn’t squander a stellar night by their goaltender and held off the visiting Winnipeg Jets 5-3 in the NHL regular-season opener for both clubs Wednesday.
Flames starter Jacob Markstrom stopped 34 shots, including all 14 he faced from Winnipeg’s power play.
“A big, big game for him and we’re going to need a lot more of those from him,” Calgary forward Andrew Mangiapane said.
The Jets twice tied the game after falling behind by a goal before Calgary’s Elias Lindholm and Mangianpane salted the win away in the last 92 seconds.
Mangiapane scored twice, including an empty-netter, and had an assist. Lindholm contributed the game-winning goal and two assists.
Defenceman Rasmus Andersson scored short-handed, MacKenzie Weeger had a goal and Jonathan Huberdeau had two assists for Calgary in front of an announced 17,414 at the Saddledome.
Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor and Alex Iafallo scored for the Jets, with starter Connor Hellebuyck turning away 17-of-21 shots in the loss.
“We certainly played well enough to get at least a point out of there,” Jets head coach Rick Bowness said. “It didn’t go our way tonight on a couple of things.
“Our power play looked really good. Look at the Grade A chances we had. You look at it, OK oh-for-four, but man they had some great looks. Markstrom was outstanding for them, outstanding.
“I really liked the way we played and if we play like that we’re going to win a lot of hockey games.”
The Jets outshot Calgary 28-14 after two periods, but trailed 3-2.
Scheifele pulled the Jets even with 5:42 left in the third period, but Lindholm scored the game winner from close range with 1:32 to go when he converted a Mangiapane backhand pass from behind the net.
“A big two points,” Mangiapane said. “There was good resilience to come back and not get away from the game. Just to kick off the season with a win is huge.”
Mangiapane, who had off-season shoulder surgery, was promoted during the game from left wing on Calgary’s third line to right wing on the top line alongside Lindholm and Huberdeau.
“I’m switching from left to right, but I’ve done that a few times here,” Mangiapane said. “Those two players are really smart players, awesome to play with. On that goal there, it was good kind of pass and play there. They know how to finish it.”
Markstrom’s .892 save percentage last season was his lowest in eight years, so both he and the Flames are looking for a bounce-back campaign from the Swede.
“It’s been a long wait for the season to start,” Markstrom said. “It’s fun to go back to work and battle and play important games for points. There’s no a better feeling than to come out with a win after a tight game.”
The Flames led 2-1 after the opening period on Mangiapane and Weegar goals, with Connor countering for the Jets. Iafallo tied the game in the second period, but Andersson’s short-hander put the hosts ahead again heading into the third.
Connor’s screened shot from the point handcuffed Markstrom in the first period, but the Flames goalie was the difference-maker in Calgary’s win.
“You look at tonight’s game, the first 10 minutes, it could have been significantly different than what it was if not for him being ready to play,” said Ryan Huska, who won his first game as Calgary’s head coach.
“He’s an elite goaltender and when he’s at his very best, he’s hard to beat.”
Winnipeg claimed the last Western Conference wild-card spot last season with a 46-33-3 record, and lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights in the first round.
Calgary (38-27-17) finished two points back of the Jets for that wild-card spot.
HOT STARTER CONNER
Jets forward Kyle Conner became just the fourth NHL player to score in six straight home-openers.
“I didn’t know that. It’s a cool stat I guess,” he said.
Chris Snow, the Flames’ vice-president of data and analytics and assistant general manager, died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 42 on Sept. 30. His wife Kelsie, son Cohen and daughter Willa provided the ceremonial puck drop Wednesday to a long and loud ovation. A memorial service for Snow is scheduled for Thursday in Calgary.
“It’s a hard one,” Huska said. “That’s a big piece of our organization and I think as with anybody in the building, when you see the family, it hits home a little bit. There’s a lot of people in here that have kids. It’s tough when they lose their dad at a young age. The crowd did an amazing job of kind of saluting him with a nice ovation for a lengthy period of time, as well as Kelsie and the kids.”
The Flames start a five-game road trip Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Jets host the Florida Panthers in their home-opener Saturday.