When I had my season ticket draft back in September and ended up with the third pick, I was pleasantly surprised when this game was still on the table. Somehow the ticket owner, and the first two people who drafted, completely forgot about this rather historic game. The Atlanta Bowl, the return of the True North, the Jets are back in town baby! Now, the excitement of this game, in general regards of hockey, was pretty much off the chart before the big news of Wednesday arrived. No, I’m not talking about the new iPad, Calgary Flames first round pick in 2011, Sven Bärtschi, was called up from his junior team, the Portland Winterhawks, to fill in for Tim Jackman in an emergency basis.
I can’t tell you the number of people who begged me for my tickets to tonight’s game.
On The Line
For both teams we’re at the point where any mistake, any loss, can kill you. Winnipeg is in a dogfight with Washington and the recently surging Buffalo Sabres for the 8th and final playoff spot in the East, while the Flames try to make hay with the friendly out of town scoreboard results over the past two nights, and climb back into the race for the 8th spot in the West.
I’ll give the Jets fans living in Calgary, and all those that hopped aboard the train from Atlanta to Winnipeg a free pass tonight, the bellowing of “TRUE NORTH” during the national anthem, was spine tingling. The Jets were feeling the support in the stands and came out hard. But an early penalty to Mark Flood for delay of game put an anemic Flames power play to work. It must have been the threat of putting Bärtschi on the power play because things clicked, and fast for the Flames. Under 30 seconds into the power play, and Mark Giordano blasted his second goal in two games past a heavily screened Ondrej Pavelec. Winnipeg got into more penalty trouble a few minutes later when Tanner Glass was sent off for boarding, and once again the Flames power play paid dividends, this time with Jarome Iginla getting his stick on a hard pass from Olli Jokinen that had to be reviewed to see if it was kicked in, but no doubt about it – good goal. Calgary wasn’t done yet, as the Flames top line continued to shoot down the Jets, this time it was Matt Stajan followed up on Jarome Iginla’s shot from the circle and put home his 4th of the season. But with some major support in the stands, the Jets weren’t down for the count. First it was Evander Kane on the doorstep, picking up the puck from Brian Little and making no mistake for this 27th of the season. A common sight throughout the game then followed when, just before the end of the period, Blake Wheeler deked through the entire Flames roster and past Kiprusoff and we’ve got a game folks.
The second period has been the Flames kryptonite all season long, and it was looking like that trend was going to continue as the Jets threw everything they had at the Flames. If I wasn’t being so highly entertained simply by being at this game, I would have been losing my mind as the Jets walked around, through and over the Flames defensive zone coverage and had chance after chance on net. Coming close to tying things on several occasions, it wasn’t until the Flames caught a break with Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla heading in on a partial two on one where Iginla was tackled, Tanguay followed up the play, and pulled a sick drag to wait out Pavelec and put the Flames back up by two. Calgary ended up with a few more chances before the period was over, but this one clearly still had some life left to it.
The third period was an all out attack from the Jets who were desperately throwing anything and everything at the Flames net hoping for something good to happen, never a poor strategy, but Miikka Kiprusoff was certainly up to the task. Calgary got back into a three goal lead, once again on the power play after Olli Jokinen rang a shot off the post, got the puck again, fired from the same spot, the rebound landing on the stick of Tanguay in front of the net, who found Curtis Glencross who scored for the sixth straight game. The Jets would almost draw within two again after Evander Kane knocked the puck into the net, but did so with a clear high stick, only to score for real just over a minute later when Tobias Enstrom fired a shot from the top of the circle that fooled Kiprusoff. The Jets would pour on the pressure, but that was as close as things got. A highly entertaining game for anyone involved for sure.
1. Alex Tanguay: What a game from Tanguay. Game winning goal, three assists, he was dominant with the puck.
2. Jarome Iginla: Mr. March is definitely back, Iginla was a beast in the offensive zone. His work with Tanguay had the Jets chasing all night long.
3. Miikka Kiprusoff: 42 saves on 45 shots, he was busy, busy, busy as the Jets fired everything they had at him. He made several dazzling glove saves throughout the game.
This one is a tie. First it was Ondrej Pavelec kicking out a leg to absolutely rob Curtis Glencross of a sure goal in the second period that could have sunk the Jets battleship. Second was Miikka Kiprusoff stoning Evander Kane on a partial breakaway to keep the score 4-2 at the time.
Things looked slightly scary for a moment when Matt Stajan was sent flying in the second period by Evander Kane, and was slow to get up.
The goat tonight is going to Derek Smith who had a rough game trying to clear the puck pretty much any time he had it. His backhand was particularly weak. This is a guy who is clearly playing outside his comfort zone right now.
Wow, what more can you say about Alex Tanguay tonight. He was on fire leading the Flames offensive charge against a tougher than expected opponent.
Odds and Ends
Beyond the recap of the game there was a spotlight on the Flames first junior age player to hit the lineup since Mikael Backlund had a one game appearance in 2009: Sven Bärtschi. So, how was his night? In a word: safe. Bärtschi was clearly looking to get his legs underneath him with all the butterflies in his stomach during his first couple of shifts. After that point he seemed to settle down a bit, and while he was definitely trying very hard just to make safe plays, his creativity was evident with a couple of offensive zone rushes. One thing is quite clear, the kid has his work cut out for him to make the transition from junior hockey to the NHL. While he didn’t get burned, outside of a ridiculously called charging penalty in the third, he was definitely looking like a slight young kid. Granted looking at the Jets they’re a team comprised of a lot of big bodies, but Bärtschi had a lot of trouble making quick decisions before someone was pretty much on top of him. All that being said, he was definitely prepared to play, and wasn’t looking particularly out of place other than his slight body playing against some very big men. Some might criticize Brent Sutter for not putting the kid on the power play, but he honestly didn’t even get a chance to hit the ice as the Flames scored on all three of their power plays and generally within the first minute. He finished the night with just under 10 minutes of ice time, one blocked shot, one penalty, one shot on goal and one hit. Not a bad first NHL game for a 20 year old.
Now a comment on the Jets. This team is going to be good, and soon. I was very impressed by the skill displayed by many Jets forwards, and they are bloody huge. Blake Wheeler and Evander Kane were particularly impressive. Get a stud defenceman (not Dustin Byfuglien is not a stud) and that team is primed to be very good in 1-2 years. Evander Kane is particularly impressive, he looks huge, slightly bigger than Jarome Iginla, and definitely looks to be the NHL’s next generation Iginla, and he might just be more talented.
Lastly, I can’t say enough about how much of a treat it was to be a part of that game. The atmosphere in the first period was simply electric. Jets fans were going nuts cheering Go Jets Go! and Flames fans were doing their best to drown them out. That was the loudest the Flames building has been in a long time. Seeing the Jets move to the West would prove to create one heck of a return to a rivalry. However, I think this would be a tough rivalry for Flames fans for the next couple of years.
Calgary heads out on the road for one with an afternoon game against the injury riddled Minnesota Wild on Sunday. Game time is 4PM and you can watch on Sportsnet West.
Tanguay – Stajan – Iginla
Glencross – Jokinen – Moss
Bärtschi – Nemisz – Kostopolous
Desbiens – Horak – Kolanos
Smith – Bouwmeester
Giordano – Hannan
Brodie – Sarich