Flames Explode, Dump Jackets
It's been a surprising reprieve and Mike Vernon is making the most of it.
Exiled for life one day then brought back home amid a torrent of controversy, Vernon punctuated two periods of perfect relief in Edmonton on Sunday with a steadying 33 save performance in a 6-1 victory over Columbus last night.
Vernon looked as fresh as workhorse Roman Turek has lately looked fatigued, coming up large in a game that might have been closer than the score indicated. As sharp as he was brutal earlier in the season, Vernon held off the buzzing Blue Jackets while his teammates ran up the score at the other end.
It was Vernon's first victory since a Dec. 10 whitewashing of Detroit.
As much as the Blue Jackets had every break imaginable in a 3-1 victory over Calgary a fortnight ago, the Flames reversed the situation last night in front of 15,211 at the Saddledome.
Alternate Captain Craig Conroy led the Flames with a masterful four point night, two goals and two assists, while the NHL's leading scorer, Jarome Iginla, broke out of a mini-slump with three points, giving him a 10 point edge over second place Markus Naslund in the NHL's Art Ross point race. Iginla's goal was his 44th on the season, further cementing his lead for the Maurice Richard Trophy.
The victory ended a crushing eight game winless streak (0-6-2) for Calgary, finally pushing the Flames to their 28th win, one more victory than last season.
Calgary is now 28-31-10-3 on the season, good for 70 points and well in arrears of the eighth and final playoff spot, held by Dallas with 80 points. Flames have only nine games left to play and are all but mathematically eliminated from the post-season.
Calgary opened scoring on a nifty play, with the unlikely duo of Jeff Shantz and Steve Begin looking like the reincarnation of Lemaire and Lafleur only 3:45 in. Shantz dashed past the Blue Jacket net while dishing a backhand saucer to a charging Begin, the latter one timing a blast past Columbus starter Marc Denis.
Calgary has been seriously devoid of luck these last eight games but managed to score a fluky one at 14:03 when Craig Conroy had a behind the net centering pass bounce off the skate of Blue Jacket defenceman Serge Aubin and behind Denis.
Only 56 seconds into the second period, Conroy roared down the right wing and blew a slapper off the far post past Denis for a 3-0 Flames edge.
David Vyborny brought Columbus a brief breath of fresh air with a goal at 18:55 but Jarome Iginla, with one of his more remarkable markers of the year, restored the three goal lead only 45 seconds later. Iginla poked the puck past Blue Jacket defenceman Mattias Timander and turned on the jets, beating both Timander and Jaroslav Spacek to a point 20 feet in front of Denis. But Spacek had managed to bobble the puck with a diving pokecheck. Iginla calmly cradled the puck and shot in one motion, beating Denis with a low drive at 19:40.
Toni Lydman and Dean McAmmond added third period markers to put the game well out of hand. The five-goal spread was the biggest winning margin of the season for the Flames.
Calgary had entered the contest having surrendered one or more power play goals in seven straight games but ended that streak by killing all six of the Blue Jacket opportunities with the man advantage. Calgary was one for four on the power play.
Next up is Dallas on Thursday at the Saddledome.
1) Craig Conroy - a four-point night ties him for 14th place in NHL scoring.
2) Mike Vernon - The Flames were stumblebums in front of him all night but he never let the Blue Jackets take advantage.
3) Jeff Shantz - two points and a buzz saw this evening looks to be fully back from his yearlong injury.
OF THE GAME
On the first shift of the game, young Steve Begin caught wily veteran Kevin Dineen looking behind him and drilled Dineen from the side into the boards.
OF THE GAME
His team hanging on with a tenuous 1-0 lead midway through the first period and the Blue Jackets searching for the equalizer, Vernon stuck out his right leg in lightning fashion to spin away a puck directed his way by Columbus defenceman Rotislav Klesa, pinching in from the point.
Jamie Allison returned to the Saddledome for the first time since being dealt to the Blue Jackets at the March 19 trade deadline, but did not play due to a sore back. His house is five minutes from the Saddledome. . . . . . . Niedermayer and Chris Clark had a two on nothing breakaway in the second period and failed to score. . . . . . . Newcomer Blake Sloan was impressive, picking up two assists with 12 minutes of ice time. Conroy led the Flames with 23:39 while Spacek totaled 24:55 for Columbus. . . . . . . In one of their most dominating performances in the faceoff circle this season, the Flames won 70% of their draws. Shantz (75%), Conroy (71%), and Niedermayer (66%) were all the Flames needed. Serge Aubin with 40% was the best Columbus could do. . . . . . . .This was a fairly non-physical affair with hits only 21-20 in favour of Columbus. Shantz, of all people, led the Flames with four and Grant Marshall had five for Columbus.