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Kylington’s high risk, high reward game epitomized in Flames’ loss to Leafs

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TORONTO — The smashed stick over the crossbar was a dead giveaway his hero status had been erased.

Late in a game in which his brilliant goal looked like it might just stand up as the winner, the Oliver Kylington of old showed up.

Fanning on an attempted clearing pass from his zone that went straight to Alex Kerfoot at the point, the puck was in the net seconds later, thanks to a William Nylander one-timer off Ondřej Kaše that tied the game with seven minutes remaining.

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Kylington immediately broke his stick over the net in obvious frustration as it was the type of mistake that kept him from being an NHL regular until this year.

“I’m pissed off right now. I think you guys understand why,” the Calgary Flames defenceman said after helping turn a 1-0 lead into a 2-1 overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena.

“I just tried to flip it out. It was an unlucky play. Not much you can do about it right now. If I could change something I would take it back.”

During the ensuing TV timeout, he had an exchange with goalie Dan Vladar, during which he apologized to the rookie netminder.

“I just told him he was having a heck of a game and I told him I was sorry,” Kylington said. “He said, ‘Don’t say you’re sorry. Just score for us.’ I just want us to win. I thought he played unbelievable tonight. He was saving us on a lot of chances, so I just wanted him to hear it from me.”

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Kylington was almost able to atone for the gaffe in overtime, using his speed to create one great scoring chance and get stopped on an attempt of his own by Jack Campbell.

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The evening was a perfect example of what Kylington’s game has long been about — high risk, high reward. Offensively gifted, defensively prone.

This year the coach has put enough belief in the 24-year-old that has stepped admirably into the top four that desperately needed a fourth.

At both ends, he’s been the team’s most pleasant surprise. Leading all blue-liners with two goals and nine points, he’s used his speed to test his offensive creativity, while focusing on the one or two big blunders defensively that made him eighth, ninth or 10th on the organization’s defensive depth chart in years’ past.

His breakthrough is certainly one to be celebrated and admired this season, which was certainly the case five minutes into the third when he won a puck battle in his end and used his wheels to create a two-on-one with Johnny Gaudreau he finished with a slick backhand move to beat Campbell.

The stage was set for the Flames to snap their two-game losing skid and steal a win against Toronto with Jarome Iginla looking on as part of the Hockey Hall of Fame game.

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Alas, one or two mistakes is all it takes these days to derail a Flames team struggling to find the net.

“It was a nice goal, but at the end we didn’t win,” said Kylington, wearing the loss on his face. “I don’t care if I score or get points, I just want to win games and we didn’t do it today.”

Vladar was, indeed, outstanding, keeping the Flames in a game in which the high-powered Leafs tested him steadily throughout his third start of the season. It wasn’t until Auston Matthews beat Vladar midway through overtime that the netminder was bumped from being the game’s first star.

“I don’t expect him to apologize for anything, he was trying to make a play,” said Vladar, who took an extremely measured and mature approach after making 35 saves in his eighth NHL start. “It happened. I could have apologized after the second goal from Matthews too. I was trying to make a save and I didn’t. That’s part of hockey and we are a family and a team.

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“Today just wasn’t our day. Obviously, I’d like to make that save and give us one more chance.”

Coach Darryl Sutter was blunt with his assessment of Kylington.

“He turned the puck over for them and scored one,” he said. “I’m sure he’s aware, we talk about turnovers all the time. Every team does. It’s about a puck possession game. When it’s unforced, guys have to take responsibility.”

He sure did.

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Matthews’ winner came after he waltzed in over the blue line, cut to the middle and unleashed a wrister under Rasmus Andersson’s stick and through Vladar’s legs.

Moments earlier, Vladar stopped Matthews on a breakaway and stoned Mitch Marner with an outstretched glove.

“I think it says a lot about him, he’s sticking with it,” Kylington said of the soft-spoken Czech star who is now 2-0-1 with a respectable .913 save percentage. “Every time he’s played he’s been unreal and made key saves. I wanted him to get this win tonight because he deserved it.”

Neither Vladar nor Kylington should be discouraged by the loss as they were a big part of the Flames nabbing a point before heading to Ottawa Sunday for Game 3 of a seven-game roadie.

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“I Just try to stick with it and believe in myself and stay with the process,” Kylington said of his intriguing journey, which has made him one of the most talked about developments of the young season. “It’s just hard tonight, after a game when a thing like that happens. I believe in myself and the plays I make. Tonight that bounce wasn’t with me.”



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