CALGARY, Alberta — Between now and April 6 when the regular season ends, there’s plenty to be decided at the top of the Pacific Division standings.
But should the Golden Knights return here for the postseason, most observers wouldn’t be disappointed.
The Knights dug out of an early hole Sunday, but they couldn’t contain Calgary’s second line and lost 6-3 in a potential playoff preview at Scotiabank Saddledome.
Brandon Pirri, Reilly Smith and Mark Stone scored for the Knights, who saw their six-game win streak come to an end.
With the loss, the Knights fell 10 points behind first-place Calgary and sit nine points back of San Jose with 12 games remaining in the regular season.
The second-place finisher in the division will play the third-place team in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs.
“We obviously don’t control who we play,” left wing Max Pacioretty said. “They were hungry for that win tonight, obviously with the way things have gone for them as of late. We’ve got to start better. We played them pretty well a couple times, but we’ve got to find a way to win in this building.”
This was the second entertaining game in five days between the teams — the Knights won 2-1 on Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena — and they split the season series, with each team winning twice on home ice.
Malcolm Subban, who was shelled in a 7-2 loss at the Saddledome on Nov. 19, earned the start on the second game of a back-to-back and suffered his second loss to the Flames.
Subban finished with 29 saves, including two impressive glove saves on Flames leading scorer Johnny Gaudreau, but also was at fault on Calgary’s second goal.
“Obviously they’re a good team, and we’ve gotten embarrassed here a couple times,” Subban said. “We wanted to come out and make a statement. Obviously, it didn’t happen. … They’re going to be a potential (playoff) matchup, so for next time, hopefully, it’ll be a different outcome.”
The Flames entered with a four-game losing streak and scored five goals during that span, but broke out of their offensive slump.
The Knights were unable to contain the 3M Line of Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik, which combined for 11 points.
Tkachuk had his first career hat trick to go along with an assist. Backlund added two goals and an assist. Frolik had four assists.
“The keys to the game were have a good start and we didn’t, so that basically cost us the game,” coach Gerard Gallant said.
Calgary led 3-1 after the first period before the Knights answered with two goals in the opening 1:20 of the second to even the score 3-3.
Smith converted a 2-on-1 with William Karlsson 21 seconds into the period, and Paul Stastny found Stone for his second goal in as many games.
But after a tripping call against Jon Merrill gave the Flames a power play late in the second, Backlund redirected Rasmus Andersson’s shot from the point to put Calgary back on top with 21.8 seconds left until intermission.
“Our penalty kill, we have to be better right now,” Smith said. “Too many times in games we’re losing because of costly goals like those. We’ve got to be a little sharper on the penalty kill, because I think that was a big turning point in the game.”
Backlund appeared to make contact with Subban’s glove moments before the goal, and Gallant challenged for goaltender interference to no avail.
“I don’t think it’s a goal. Obviously, they thought otherwise, but it’s tough,” Subban said. “It’s the game-winning goal, so it’s frustrating. They scored six goals, so it’s not the reason we lost. But it’s definitely a big goal for them.”
1. Nosek out. Golden Knights forward Tomas Nosek was scratched against the Flames. Coach Gerard Gallant said he suffered a minor lower-body injury in Saturday’s victory at Vancouver. Nosek went to the locker room with about six minutes remaining in the second period against the Canucks but returned. He was replaced Sunday by Brandon Pirri.
2. Angry goaltender. Malcolm Subban was furious with officials after Calgary’s fourth goal, claiming he was interfered with by the Flames’ Mikael Backlund. Subban charged after referee Dan O’Halloran at the end of the second period and gave him an earful before being assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
3. Heating up. Knights center William Karlsson quietly has picked up his offense of late. Karlsson had an assist on Reilly Smith’s goal in the second period and has recorded one goal and four assists in his past five games. The team’s leading scorer last season is now up to 19 goals and 25 assists.