The hair on your arm stands on end as the electricity in the building takes hold and charges through your veins. Beads of perspiration trickle down your forehead as you immerse yourself in the collective storm of the “C” of red. You cheer a desperation sliding block, jeer a behind the play jostle, and hold you breath as a blast from the point whistles just wide. Your throat, already coarse from shouting, fails to swallow as the opposition dangerously storms the zone. And your heart rips to shreds and is consumed by your churning stomach every time the puck doesn’t bounce your way.
And that’s just the opening shift.
Yes, playoff race hockey is back in cow town. And with it every play, every moment, intensified both on and off the ice. With their win in Minnesota on Sunday — their third straight overall – the Flames temporarily grabbed a hold of eighth place in the West, and it feels like the playoffs are getting closer and closer to reality.
Don’t get too ahead of yourself though, the Flames have been in this position before. On March 11th, 2010 the Flames sat in a tie for 7th place. Same date last season? The Flames were locked in a four-way tie for 5th. Both years ultimately ended in disappointment with the Flames outside looking in. But with their recent strong play, and favorable schedule heading home, it’s hard not to get caught up in all the excitement.
It’s fun to be a Flames fan.
On The Line
No bigger game this season than tonight’s contest. The Flames currently sit 10th, just one point behind the 9th place Sharks who also hold a game in hand. Having snapped an ugly five-game home losing streak with back-to-back convincing victories, the Flames need to keep the home fires cooking.
San Jose wasted no time ending Calgary’s season record 11 game scoring first streak. Just 53 seconds in and some pressure and perseverance led to Couture firing a juicy rebound past Kiprusoff. Game on. A good indicator of a team’s preparedness and level of intensity is there effectiveness on an early powerplay. In the Flames case they looked all out of sorts on a pair of early advantages, which led to little in the way of quality scoring chances. Things turned nasty late as Glencross, in his usual ornery self, bounced up after getting thrown down by Demers and slammed the rearguard into the glass. Glencross would get tossed for the hit, effectively ending his seven game goal-scoring streak and giving the Sharks a five minute powerplay, meaning the shorthanded Flames had some work to do in the second period to ensure the game stayed within reach.
It didn’t take a hockey visionary to realize the start of the second would likely be the TSN turning point on the night. Four and a half minutes of powerplay, and the Flames did a masterful job of stifling the Sharks, allowing just five shots and even fewer chances. As would be predicted the momentum was now on the Flames side, and they would make full use. First Svensational Baertschi picked up a loose puck and rifled it top shelf for his second career goal in only his third NHL game. Then after another strong penalty kill, Giordano would step out of the box right into a San Jose pass. He found Iginla for his patented one-timer slapshot for his patented 30th goal of the season. 2-1 Calgary after two.
Again the Flames would start the period with a man in the box, but this time they weren’t so lucky. An ill-timed race to the bench for a new stick by Kostopolous left Couture alone in front, and he easily deposited his own 30th of the season, 2nd of the night. From there it became a chess match. Neither team would take many chances, the Flames firing just two shots on net when the horn blew to end the third, giving each team a point and muddling up the playoff picture even more.
Overtime would continue to be cautious until a Matt Stajan strip would set up a Flames two-on-one with less than a minute left. Comeau and Stajan would play the rush perfectly leaving Stajan a wide open net to deliver the victory and he made no mistake, sending the entire arena (including Brent Sutter) into a state of celebration.
- Matt Stajan: It wasn’t just the overtime winning goal. Matt Stajan with one of his best all-round efforts in a Flames uniform. He battled hard in both ends and was deserving of the first star on this night.
- Jarome Iginla: The captain has certainly picked up his play. A goal and an assist extends his point-scoring streak to seven games. What a player.
- Logan Couture: Snapped his own seven-game goal scoreless streak in a big way with two goals tonight.
Late in the first and fresh off the fisticuffs the Sharks would get a glorious chance to extend the lead. Thornton slid the puck backdoor to Couture, but Kiprusoff would do the splits to keep it out and pounce on the loose puck. He followed it up with a shot to the swinging Couture just for good measure.
Glencross wasn’t too happy after receiving the ol’ can opener late in the first. His retaliation was to get up and send Demers hard into the end glass. He’d get five and a game for the hit from behind, ending his goal scoring streak at 7 games.
Curtis Glencross would have been the goat if the Sharks had been able to capitalize on his ill-advised major penalty. Fortunately instead the Flames would rally around the hit and it became the turning point of the game.
Sven Baertschi continues to impress in his temporary NHL debut. It’s unfortunate the skilled Swissman won’t be able to stick around for the entire stretch run as he brings a potent combination of energy and skill that few Flames rookies have been able to provide.
Odds and Ends
The Iginla goal was his 30th of the season, and marks the 11th straight season of 30 or more goals for the Flames sniper. Wow, what a feat. A testament to his conditioning and scoring prowess no matter how the game changes around him. Funny how just a few weeks ago some were speculating that he might not reach the plateau this year. With 12 games left and the way he’s playing right now, could 40 be a possibility? Probably not, but they’ll need the captain to continue his hot streak if they want that coveted playoff berth… On the subject of scoring streaks, unfortunately for Glencross his ejection prevented him from tying Kent Nilsson and Gary Roberts for the team record of eight straight games with a goal. Wonder if he’ll get a chance to start a new streak next game, or if he’ll have a meeting with league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan.
Where is Yanic Perreault when you need him? Calgary remains dead last in faceoffs percentage in the NHL. And there deficiency out there is becoming a very visible handicap. They lost 32 of 55 faceoffs on this night. Kiprusoff was his steady self once again. The way it’s shaping up he’ll play more than 70 games for the seventh consecutive season — every year since the lockout.
From the most important game of the season, to the most important game of the season. Thursday night at home against the Coyotes, 7 pm on Sportsnet West.
Lines (To Start):
Tanguay – Stajan – Iginla
Glencross – Jokinen – Moss
Kostopolous – Nemisz – Baertschi
Kolanos – Horak – Desbiens
Bouwmeester – Sarich
Giordano – Hannan
Babchuk – Smith