Zary scratched, Pospisil ejected as Flames eliminated with latest loss

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The night started with frustration among the fan-base, folks wondering why one of the Calgary Flames’ two rookie standouts was being healthy-scratched in Winnipeg.

By the end of the evening, they were wondering if the Flames’ other impact freshman would soon be stuck sitting due to his second career suspension.

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Connor Zary was a surprise spectator Thursday in Friendly Manitoba, watching from the press-box as his squad was mathematically eliminated from the playoff race with a 5-2 loss to the Jets at Canada Life Centre.

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Zary may have been joined for the third period by Martin Pospisil, who was tossed late in the second after an elbow-to-the-chops on Josh Morrissey.

It was less than a month ago that Pospisil was dinged with a three-game suspension for a dangerous hit on Seattle’s Vince Dunn, and the feisty forward could be receiving a Zoom link for another chit-chat with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

The 24-year-old sparkplug appeared to leave his feet for that open-ice lick on Morrissey. The refs initially signalled a two-minute minor but changed their minds after a review, and Pospisil was ultimately slapped with a major and game misconduct.

“When I watched it after, he kind of extends the elbow,” the Calgary-raised Morrissey told reporters in the Jets’ locker-room. “Thankfully, it just kind of grazed my chin. Obviously, he’s got a history and the elbow was the part of it that I feel was the reckless part.

“The league will look at it. He has a couple of suspensions and he’s a young guy in the league, so it’s not the best to be losing money like that.”

Whether or not Pospisil is forced to take the night off, Flames fans — and maybe management, too — will be calling for Zary to be back in the lineup for Saturday’s Battle of Alberta.

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While the 22-year-old left-winger has struggled in six appearances since returning from an upper-body injury, there will be plenty of debate about whether one of your best building blocks should be scratched at this time of year, especially since this retooling team is focused on the future.

Prior to Wednesday’s flight to Winnipeg, Flames coach Ryan Huska mentioned that Zary seems to missing some of the pace and pizzaz that allowed to make an immediate impact at the NHL level. He is averaging 0.54 points per game, which still ranks fifth among rookie regulars, but has just one assist since his absence and has been a minus-5 over that stretch.

“Since he’s been back from his injury, I think he’s been a step behind, and I think that’s probably why he hasn’t been able to generate all that much,” Huska said. “He missed eight games and now he’s come back and the pace that he was playing at isn’t the same. I think a lot of that has to do with his time away, but now it’s up to him to make sure that, ‘I have to raise it again and I have to be making sure I’m pushing the envelope here.’ ”

Pospisil, who leads the Flames with 214 hits in his 56 outings, pushes the envelope in another way.

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Now considered a repeat offender, it may cost him another suspension.

“We don’t ever want to see him sitting in the penalty-box, because he’s a more effective player for us on the ice,” Huska told media in Winnipeg when asked about Pospisil’s third major since the all-star break. “So it’s a matter of having him make sure that he understands there is a way to play but there is just that very fine line that he wants to make sure he’s good with. But we don’t want to change the way he plays. It’s just making sure you’re always on the right side of it.”

Gabriel Vilardi notched a hat-trick Thursday for the Jets, while Nikolaj Ehlers and old friend Tyler Toffoli also tallied for the home side. In a head-to-head showdown with the Vezina Trophy frontrunner, Flames goalie-of-the-future Dustin Wolf racked up 40 saves and was watching from the bench as Vilardi sealed the result with a late empty-netter.

MacKenzie Weegar, now just one snipe shy of 20 on the season, and Daniil Miromanov did the lamp-lighting in a losing cause.

ICE CHIPS: With the victory, the Jets locked up a playoff spot. They are sitting third in the Central Division … After Tuesday’s dud against the Anaheim Ducks, Huska described the performance in Winnipeg as “a total opposite of our last game.” Weegar agreed during his media scrum at Canada Life Centre, saying: “It was a good effort tonight, and I think that was the most important part coming off that last game. I’m proud of the way we responded” … It was a milestone night for Weegar, who scored on the power-play, also assisted on Miromanov’s marker and now has 200 career points at the NHL level … While the locals are playing out the string, Saturday’s clash at the Saddledome is one of those easy-to-get-up-for games. The Flames will host the arch-rival Edmonton Oilers in the late date on Hockey Night in Canada (8 p.m. MT, CBC/Sportsnet, Sportsnet 960 The Fan) … Birthday boy Andrew Mangiapane, now 28, missed a fourth consecutive contest due to injury. The Flames were also without blue-liner Joel Hanley. He was replaced by Nikita Okhotiuk.

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