Flames will go as far as transition game (and Mike Smith) can take them
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Hemmed in their own zone for minutes at a time, unable to complete simple passes over and over and over again, and generally looking ordinary most of the night, the Calgary Flames didn't deserve a win on Saturday.

Yet they only narrowly lost, dropping a 3-2 decision in overtime to the Colorado Avalanche. The Western Conference first-round series now shifts to Denver, tied 1-1. With Game 3 set for Monday, this is not how the NHL's second-best team drew it up.

The Avalanche are not world-beaters. The under-construction club might blossom into a dominant outfit in a few years, but right now it is essentially comprised of superstar Nathan MacKinnon (who scored the overtime winner), 87-point winger Mikko Rantanen, a handful of supporting pieces, and solid goalies. They are incomplete.

So while Calgary should - and still could - dispose of Colorado in short order, it's kind of complicated. The 2018-19 Flames, for better or for worse, seem to dine on three specific things. And when one, two, or all three of those things aren't clicking, the results can get ugly in a hurry.

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The first thing: In order for the Flames to win meaningful hockey games, their goaltenders must provide stability. No issues in that department through two games. Mike Smith, who earned a shutout in Game 1 and has turned aside 62 of 65 total shots, appears up to the task.

The second: Calgary's team defense must protect its goalies from being overworked. No team limited opponents to fewer shots on goal in the regular season than the Flames. So far in the playoffs, there's been mixed results.

The third: The Flames' transition game must be humming. Nobody pushes the pace like Johnny Gaudreau and Co., but they've been uncharacteristically careless with the puck at various moments in this series.

All told, the Flames, though well-coached and well-built, have pressure points.

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Their sloppiness was front and center Saturday. The official tally was 20 giveaways, but it sure felt like 30 or 40. Colorado was all over them. After two periods, according to the Sportsnet broadcast, the Avalanche had somewhere around eight minutes of offensive zone time versus about two minutes for Calgary.

The Flames were constantly chasing the puck. When they happened to come across a loose puck, they often failed to make crisp passes:


Transition offense is ultimately Calgary's bread and butter, so a constructive video session could probably fix any bad habits; strong neutral-zone play is a hallmark of this group is because the roster is perfectly suited to play an up-tempo brand of hockey.

Every forward in the Flames' top 12, aside from maybe James Neal and Garnet Hathaway, can really wheel around the rink. Versatile defenders like captain Mark Giordano and Noah Hanifin not only provide a reliable first pass, they join the rush too.

Smith, probably the league's best stickhandling goalie, is a huge contributor as well, often starting the breakout from behind the goal line:


The above clip is from Game 1. Just a few days ago. It's incredible how much can change over such a short period of time.

As this series chugs along, the Flames' pace of play - and goaltending - will dictate their future. The same can likely be said of Calgary's entire playoff run, however deep it may be. Better to stumble early against a lesser foe like the under-construction Avs.

John Matisz is theScore's National Hockey Writer. You can find him on Twitter @matiszjohn.

Flames will go as far as transition game (and Mike Smith) can take them
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