Flames Takeaways: Wolf shows mental toughness, but Sabres win battle of rebuilding teams

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It was the kind of goaltending duo you may just see for years to come.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen versus Dustin Wolf.

The former MVP of the OHL against the reigning AHL MVP, who also happened to dominate his junior ranks in the west.

On Sunday, Buffalo’s backstop emerged the victor, making 32 saves in a 4-1 win that saw the Sabres break a 1-1 tie in the third with a JJ Peterka game-winner followed by two empty netters.

The question is when will the rematches between these two young hotshots start to matter?

The Sabres currently own the NHL record for playoff futility, missing the post-season party 12 years in a row.

They’re about to tie the NY Jets, who lead all major North American pro sports teams with 13-straight seasons without a playoff appearance.

As Sabres fans know even better than Red Wings and Oilers fans, rebuilds are hard.

With three of the best young defencemen in the game as their strength, the Sabres are hoping the 25-year-old Luukkonen can complement them well.

Argue all you want about which of the two teams are ahead in terms of recalibrating for a playoff position in the years ahead, but the recently refurbished Flames will undoubtedly be doing so with Wolf as their starter.

He was almost as good as Luukkonen Sunday, stopping 25 of 27 shots in a tight game very much up for grabs until the final ten minutes.

While Peterka’s beautiful finish was the game-winner, ultimately the difference in the game came just five minutes in when Wolf whiffed on the Sabres’ first shot of the game, a snapper from Calgary native Peyton Krebs from the faceoff dot NHL goalies have to have.

Great shot, far top corner and over Wolf’s glove, but Wolf needs to be out further, making himself bigger and stopping a shot he had full view of and time to prepare.

Wolf allowed a similar goal in his last start, bringing back the age-old narrative surrounding his undersized frame.

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“After the first goal I thought he was good,” said coach Ryan Huska, whose club will also miss the playoffs, as they currently sit 12 points back of the final wild-card spot. 

“I thought he settled in and had a real good game for us.”

Indeed, in his 12th NHL appearance, Wolf showed the type of mental fortitude that has made him so dominant at every other level, bouncing back with a number of big saves soon thereafter, allowing a Jonathan Huberdeau goal to tie it one period later.

He stopped Bowen Byram in tight to prevent the Sabres from going up 2-0 in the first, and also made stellar stops on Tage Thompson and Zemgus Girgensons to keep it tied.

Active outside the crease as a capable stick handler and communicating well with his defencemen, there is plenty to like about Wolf and the way he is trending.

He’ll learn from this one and should have plenty of time to prove it as he splits starts with Jacob Markstrom for the final 12 games.

With a second-straight missed playoffs a foregone conclusion, conventional wisdom would suggest the 22-year-old Wolf will get at least six of those starts, if not more.

His showing the rest of the season, and in the playoffs for the Wranglers, will be as closely watched by Flames fans as anything else in Calgary.

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THE ENTERTAINER  

No one on the Flames gives fans their money’s worth these days as much as Martin Pospisil.

Forever engaged, the team’s leading hitter keeps things interesting on a nightly basis, banging and crashing his way to the hearts of the Flames faithful.

On Sunday, he had the Dome buzzing for a different reason.

Sprung on a breakaway by linemate Connor Zary midway through a 1-1 game, Pospisil pulled the rare fake slapshot, before trying unsuccessfully to go five-hole on Luukkonen. His rebound attempt from a sharp angle hit the outside of the post, as fans revelled in yet another unique approach by the 24-year-old rookie favourite.

ANOTHER YOUNGSTER ON BOARD     

The Flames announced Sunday morning they had signed 21-year-old Finnish defenceman Joni Jurmo to a two-year entry-level deal. 

The six-foot-five, 210-pound prospect was acquired in the trade that sent Elias Lindholm to the Canucks, and has played all season in the top Finnish pro league.

“He provides us with another young defenceman prospect with size, mobility, who skates and defends well,” said GM Craig Conroy.

Jurmo will join the Wranglers on a tryout for the balance of their season.

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