Where Have You Been?
Where have these guys been hiding the last three months?
In a win very reminiscent of that magical first six weeks of the season, the Calgary Flames steam-rolled the St. Louis Blues last night 3-2, winning on the ice and in the alley while keeping pace with their peers in the Western Conference playoff race.
Speed, aggression and a 60 minute effort were characteristics of the Flames early in this campaign and they were the dominating factors much of last night as well.
In addition, all of Calgary's goals came from sources that had been non-contributors for much of the season. Jeff Shantz, with his first marker in 35 games, Petr Buzek, with his first goal in 59 games, and Derek Morris scoring for the first time in 28 games, were the three Calgary marksmen.
The victory, the third in four games against St. Louis this year, moves the Flames to 24-24-9-3 on the season, good for 60 points and 11th place in the NHL's Western Conference.
Calgary advanced one point on Vancouver and Phoenix while picking up two points on Edmonton. Flames are now five points out of seventh and eighth place in the Western Conference, with two games in hand on Vancouver, one in hand on Phoenix and with Dallas holding a game in hand on Calgary.
Jarome Iginla, one of many Olympians honoured in a stirring pre-game ceremony, didn't let the home crowd down with two assists. Iginla has 66 points on the season and a three-point lead on Markus Naslund of Vancouver atop the NHL scoring parade.
After a spirited first period, Flames opened scoring 7:01 into the second when Shantz blew through the St. Louis defence and lifted a brilliant wrist shot high short side on an obviously surprised Brathwaite. The goal might have been more of a relief to Shantz's wife who now can have her husband shave the beard he had started over the Olympic break as incentive to end his scoreless drought.
Calgary extended its lead to 2-0 at 12:41 when Brathwaite mishandled the puck, lost his stick and subsequently couldn't handle a Buzek point shot.
Morris, who has struggled since returning from a lengthy layoff after a wrist injury, added to the lead at 14:33 when his drive from the blue line was initially stopped by Brathwaite, then swept into his own net by the diminutive goaltender.
The Blues made it close in the third period on goals by Tyson Nash and Chris Pronger, both deflections, but the Flames were able to hang on for the win.
In a game filled with interesting sub-plots came the match-up between Roman Turek and Fred Brathwaite, essentially traded for each other last summer. Brathwaite has lost all three starts against Calgary while Turek is 3-1 against his former team.
A massive brouhaha broke out minutes after Calgary defenceman Bob Boughner delivered a crunching hit that put St. Louis star Doug Weight out of the game with a bruised knee. Blues cement-head Reed Low did his job and jumped Boughner to initiate a conflagration that saw 139 minutes in penalties called, resulted in three game misconducts (Clark Wilm, Bryce Salvador and Jamal Mayers, three double game misconducts (Low, Regehr and Dave Lowry) and six fighting majors.
"Your eyes light up when you have an opportunity to make a big hit," Boughner told USA Today. "Especially if it's one of their talented guys, you have to make him pay the price. I'm not trying to hurt anyone or take anyone's knees out, but sometimes it happens. I hope he didn't screw his knee up, but that's my job, to make the hits."
It was almost an afterthought that Craig Berube and Low had struggled earlier in the period.
Flames were pathetic in the last meeting between these two teams on December 15, outshot 35-9 while losing 4-0. But this was a different Calgary squad this night, Flames ripping 32 shots at Brathwaite while giving up only 23 on Turek.
Although he failed to show up on the scoresheet, Marc Savard continued to worm his way out of coach Greg Gilbert's doghouse with another spirited effort as the left wing on the Craig Conroy/Iginla line. Savard led Calgary in ice time with 24.51, the first time this season he has done so.
St. Louis was one for two on the powerplay. The Flames were one for three.
Attendance was 16,053.
||St. Louis Blues
1) Jeff Shantz - The invisible man puts in an all-star appearance.
2) Derek Morris - Looked like the Team Canada candidate he was early in the season.
3) Chris Pronger - didn't kill anyone but not for a lack of trying. Twenty-seven minutes of ice time on the night.
OF THE GAME
Weight was cruising up the boards, head down, attempting to clear the puck, when the Boughner freight train arrived to pound the former Oiler. Weight's legs were mashed together and he had to be helped off the ice - the early verdict being a bruised knee.
Flames recognized a number of participants in the Salt Lake City Olympic games, including members of Canada's gold medal winning women's team prior to the game. Members of the various men's teams were also recognized, last of all Jarome Iginla who received a rousing ovation. . . . . . . St. Louis entered the game with the strange statistic of having the best home power play in the NHL, yet were ranked 28th on the road. . . . . . . . . . . Interestingly, Chuck Kobasew, Calgary's number one pick in the June 2002 NHL draft, was in the building and, after a rousing opening ceremonies and intense game, one can only hope he has finally clued in to what he might be missing after turning down a Flames contract offer last summer. . . . . . . Flame-killer Keith Tkachuk mercifully missed the game with Olympic related injuries . . . . . Rob Niedermayer could be playing as early as Monday. . . . . Jamie Allison and Jukka Hentunen were healthy scratches. . . . . . Flames were an incredible 70% in the face-off circle, led by the 62% of Savard and the 75% of Conroy. . . . . . Steve Begin and Conroy led the Flames with five hits while Mellanby had four for the Blues. On the night, the Flames out-hit St. Louis 27-19. . . . . . Next up is Nashville on Saturday night at the Saddledome. . . . . . . Something to think about - the Flames won only 27 games last year but now, with 24, have 22 games left to exceed that total.