The Calgary Flames won their season opener for the first time in well over a decade with a 5-3 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche on Thursday.
The Flames halted the NHL’s longest active winless streak in openers — 0-10-2 after their last win in 2009 — by scoring twice in the second and third periods.
“I saw a random stat that it’s been awhile since the Flames won a season opener, so I’m happy we can get that off our backs and we can just carry on another 81 games here,” new Flames defenceman MacKenzie Weegar said.
Dillon Dube scored short-handed and defenceman Rasmus Andersson scored on a breakaway coming out of the penalty box in the middle period. Elias Lindholm and Tyler Toffoli contributed power-play goals in the third and Brett Ritchie also scored for Calgary.
Weegar joined Calgary’s other off-season acquisitions Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri and Kevin Rooney in their regular-season debuts for the Flames.
Weegar had two assists. Kadri assisted on Calgary’s fourth goal and Huberdeau the fifth.
Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom, a Vézina Trophy finalist last season, made 22 saves for the win, which was also the 700th of head coach Darryl Sutter’s career.
Defenceman Bowen Byram, Nathan MacKinnon and Valeri Nichushkin scored for Colorado. Pavel Francouz stopped 22 shots in the loss.
The Avalanche had travelled overnight to play their second game in as many days. They raised the Stanley Cup banner and beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 at Ball Arena on Wednesday.
“For sure the energy level wasn’t where it needed to be,” Colorado head coach Jared Bednar said. “It wasn’t where it was last night. Give Calgary credit. I thought they did what they needed to do to make it tough on us.”
Kadri signed as a free agent with Calgary in August after three seasons with Colorado. Mere weeks after lifting the Cup with the Avalanche, the centre from London, Ont., faced his former teammates.
Kadri received his championship ring from the Avalanche after the game.
“A win and getting this, that’s the cherry on top, that’s for sure,” Kadri said. “It was a bit of a whirlwind of a day. You just try to compose yourself as best as possible. A lot of things are running through your head.
“Happy we were able to play a half-decent game and get a win against a great team and this just makes it even better.”
Lindholm and Toffoli scored power-play goals at 2:47 and 1:12 respectively in the third, but MacKinnon with his famous turn of speed countered on a breakaway at 3:08.
Nichushkin further cut the deficit at 11:01 with a power-play goal on a give-and-go with Mikko Rantanen.
“Third period, they turned it up,” Sutter said. “They’re champions for a reason. It’s important not to take bad penalties and we took two or three and eventually one costs you.”
When Toffoli deflected Kadri’s centring pass home, he took a stick in the face from Cale Makar for another Flames power-play chance, which Lindholm converted on Huberdeau’s feed.
Calgary led 3-1 at 14:52 of the second period when Andersson stepped out of the box to collect a stretch pass from Weegar. Andersson and teammate Mikael Backlund, who was in the box with him, had discussed scoring on that very play.
“We talked about that I was going to go out and get a breakaway,” Andersson said. “He told me if I didn’t score he was going to give it to me because we talked about it for two minutes.”
Dube scored short-handed at 3:31 when he opted to shoot far corner on a two-on-one with Andrew Mangiapane.
Ritchie pulled the hosts even at 11:23 of the first period. Milan Lucic from behind the goal line fed Ritchie in the slot to shovel the puck high by Francouz’s glove.
Andersson missed a poke check on Byram in the slot and the latter was able to flick the puck under Markstrom on Colorado’s first shot of the game at 1:39.
HELLO HUBERDEAU: Huberdeau’s contingent of friends and family at the Saddledome numbered over 30, including 22-year-old sister Josiane who sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” followed by George Canyon’s “O Canada”.
BROTHERS’ BIG NIGHT: The Ritchie brothers combined for three NHL goals Thursday. Brett’s brother Nick scored twice for the Arizona Coyotes in a 6-2 loss to Pittsburgh.
NOTES: The Avalanche were minus captain Gabriel Landeskog because of a lower-body injury sustained last season. He underwent knee surgery in March, but returned for playoffs … Backlund appeared in his 827th career game as a Flame, moving him past Robyn Regehr into third in franchise history behind Jarome Iginla (1,219) and Mark Giordano (949).
UP NEXT: The Flames head to Edmonton to face the Oilers on Saturday. Colorado stays on the road to meet the Minnesota Wild on Monday.