He's been the forgotten guy on a 23 man roster.
Dogged by personal troubles, including a serious
illness to his mother, his play so obviously below standard that
even a spirited defence offered by his teammates seemed to ring
hollow, so vilified in his hometown that his coach had
mercifully played him only on the road until injuries forced his
But Mike Vernon showed last night he's back, giving his team
the huge game it desperately needed with 28 hard fought stops in
a 2-0 win over the powerhouse Detroit Red Wings in front of
16,009 ravenous and appreciative fans last night at the
It was also Vernon's first victory in 13 appearances, his
fine play coming at a timely moment with first string starter
Roman Turek still down with a knee injury.
Helping Vernon's efforts were the 16 blocked shots from his
defence core, including six from Robyn Regehr and four by Bob
For two periods, six time Vezina winner Dominik Hasek and two
time Stanley Cup winner Vernon stared each other down in a
classic goaltending duel.
That is until the Detroit netminder finally cracked at 4:11
of the third period when Jarome Iginla provided the edge the
Flames needed with his league leading 24th goal of the season.
Craig Conroy drove the net and had two clean shots at Hasek
before Dean McAmmond spun a rebound into the crease area where
Iginla ignored the hacking of Nik Lidstrom and pushed the puck
across the line for a 1-0 Flames lead.
The goal extended Iginla's lead over opponent Brendan
Shanahan in the NHL scoring race, the Flames star winger now
having 42 points to 34 for Shanahan.
The victory was in serious doubt when Jarome Iginla was
penalized with only 1:17 to play and the Wings pulling Hasek for
a two man advantage.
But a visibly relieved Rob Niedermayer was able to chop a
long-range shot through the Wings and down the length of the ice
for only his second of the season to seal the victory.
Flames are now 15-8-6-2 on the season for 38 points, the win
inching Calgary to within one point of the idle Oilers for
second place in the NHL's Northwest Division.
Although the Detroit victory was only Calgary's second win in
its last twelve starts it was a nice follow-through to a dismal
effort in a 4-0 home ice loss to the Ducks on Saturday. The
sinking Calgary ship is beginning to right itself, the Flames
now 2-2-2 in their last six games.
Vernon's finest moment came in the third period on a blueline turnover that sprung loose a determined Brett Hull for a close-in bullet, but Vernon sprawled across the crease to keep the score 1-0 in favour of Calgary.
The game also marked the refurbishment of Al MacNeil as an
NHL head coach, however briefly, given the two game suspension
of Greg Gilbert for the Saturday debacle with the Ducks. McNeil
won his 104th career game and later, on the TEAM 960 post-game
show, Conroy credited McNeil for his calming influence behind
This one was hardly a repeat of the 4-2 win over Detroit
earlier in the year when the Flames basically flattened the
Wings, but kicking, scratching, clawing and hanging on can still
work on occasion and that's what the Flames did in this one.
The Wings had the better of the chances but, aside from the
stellar netminding of Vernon, the other key difference might
have been the outstanding and spirited play of Iginla and
linemates McAmmond and Conroy.
As much as the Wings held overall territorial advantage, the Iginla line was equally dominant at the other end,
continually overrunning the desperate defence pairing of Nik
Lidstrom and Steve Duschene.
Hasek's best save came with three minutes lto go in the first
when Conroy left Lidstrom in his vapour trail behind the Detroit
net, passing out front to Iginla who had two stabs before the
puck skittered away.
Vernon played a strong game throughout but some of his best saves may have came in the second period with a miraculous pad save on a close in rebound chance by Chris Chelios as well as a breakaway stop on Steve Yzerman.
The Wings kept pouring it on but Vernon was equal to the
task, stopping all 13 shots in the second and 21 through two.
The Flames mercifully seemed to have picked up some lessons
from their previous starts in giving the Wings only three power
play opportunities, killing them all. Calgary had only two man
advantage opportunities on Detroit.