A Gift Unopened

Flames Sketchy At Times But Beat Rivals

December 23rd, 2003
Rick Charlton

It was the icing on the Christmas Cake, the gift you open Christmas Eve . . . . the nutmeg on the eggnog.

And the proverbial lump of goal for the visitors.

Forget for a moment the Flames were only hanging on in the end, the Oilers swirling around the Calgary cage as though red-shirted bodies were mere pylons.

Flames fans will take this one anyway, their slim 2-1 victory over hated Edmonton in front of 18,389 witnesses at the Saddledome last night a fine capper to an epic five week run that has seen the Flames go 12-1-2-2 in climbing to stratospheric heights in the NHL's Western Conference.

Saprykin Lombardi Iginla
Gelinas McAmmond Donovan
Green Yelle Kobasew
Oliwa Morgan Clark
Regehr Leopold
Gauthier Montador
Lydman Ference

Calgary is now 18-9-2-3 on the year with 41 points, one of the best starts in team history and good enough for fifth place in the NHL's Western Conference.

Calgary, with its fourth win in a row and points in 15 of its last 16 games, is three points ahead of sixth place Colorado and any Flames fan figuring on the local boys having that advantage on the slick Avs at the Christmas break would have been marched off to the loony bin for certification long ago.

Looking up, Flames are three points removed from division leader Vancouver with two games in hand while peering in the rear-view mirror, Calgary is seven points into a playoff spot.

As good as it gets for Calgary, the plummeting Oilers are spiraling out of site into the depths of the Western Conference, their submarine act now 2-9-4 in their last 15, 11 points behind the Flames and seven points out of a playoff spot.

At 18,539, it was the largest Saddledome crowd in five years, an ample reward for a club exceeding all pre-season expectations.

In truth, the Flames did everything they could to throw this one away, repeatedly guilty of failing to clear the puck from their own zone, guilty of failing to shove the puck deep into the Oiler end of the ice, guilty, guilty, guilty of too little energy compared to their efforts from earlier in the season.

Yet they gained the points and there should be no doubt now how they are doing it, on the back of their goaltending, in this case, Miikka Kiprusoff.

"He's been unbelieveable for us," said Matthew Lombardi on FAN960 in the second intermission. "He's been keeping us in every game."

It was the fourth game in a row the Flames have surrendered over 30 shots while they had performed that crime only twice in the previous 28, Edmonton generated 31 shots at Kiprusoff while Calgary put 21 on Oiler netminder Tommy Salo.

"I think they actually outplayed us," conceded Warrener after the game on FAN960. "I think we were actually lucky to squeak out two points."

Flames opened scoring on a power play with a gang pile in Salo's crease, Oleg Saprykin managing to whack the puck through the Oiler goaltender at 9:06 of the first period for his fifth of the year.

With Jarome Iginla picking two Oiler defenders and Matthew Lombardi charging the net from the corner, Warrener charged in and blew a rebound over Salo at 4:46 of the second.

It was Warrener's first goal in 100 games, a curious stat given teammate Robyn Regehr also broke a goalless streak at 100 games only weeks before.

"It's nice to get the monkey off the back," said Warrener. "Hopefully its not a hundred more."

Mike York made this affair interesting when he finally broke through Kiprusoff's wall, picking up a rebound on another Flames breakdown and putting the puck past the Calgary netminder at 16:44 of the third.

It would be fair to say, however, the Oil had little more than routine shots until Radek Dvorak spun free into the Flames zone only to be stopped by Kiprusoff's left pad midway through the third.

After the York goal, Kiprusoff made a few more key saves while some missed opportunities by the Oilers in the dying moments preserved the Calgary win.

Calgary was one for five on the powerplay while the Oilers were zero for four.

Flames have killed 52 of their last 54 shorthanded opportunities.

And so we face a Christmas break, the Flames climbing to stratospheric heights in the standings and capping their ascent with a home ice victory in front of a gigantic crowd.

Pinch a Flames fan on Christmas Day. They won't even feel it.





1) Miikka Kiprusoff - In truth, most of the Oiler chances were more routine than anything else, but he was a rock in the Calgary net as the game tightened up in the third period. 

2) Mike York - Blasted twice to the ice by big Calgary rearguards Denis Gauthier and Robyn Regehr, the Edmonton forward put up enough of a fight to almost bring his team into a tie single-handed. 

3) Rhett Warrener - Scores for the first time in 100 games, this time the game winner to go with his rough house play on defence.

With the Flames holding a seemingly safe but precarious 2-0 lead midway through the third period, Radek Dvorak was sprung loose on a short-handed breakaway, but a flashing left pad from Kiprusoff kept the Oilers at bay just a little longer.

Diminutive Mike York was searching for the puck in his shoelaces in the Flames zone in the second period when Denis Gauthier came across the rink to smoke him into the boards, prompting Oiler retaliation from Brad Isbister and Ryan Smyth at the ensuing whistle.

A new stat idea - how many times can Chuck Kobasew be knocked to the ice in one period? The first frame was a good one energy wise for the young Flames forward, including a near miss in the crease on a Stephane Yelle pass on a Calgary powerplay, but Kobasew spent many a moment trying to get to his feet as the Oilers repeatedly punished him for his interest . . . . . Robyn Regehr led the Flames with 23:18 in ice time. For a moment, it looked like Regehr had scored his third of the year from the crease, but the goal was eventually credited to Oleg Saprykin in the first period. . . . . Eric Brewer played 25:32 in leading the Oilers . . . . . Both Iginla and Matthew Lombardi continued their hot play with two points each . . . . . Flames had a rare night where they were beaten pretty soundly in the faceoff circle, Dean McAmmond and Stephane the best of the lot at 47% and 46% respectively. Adam Oates and Shawn Horcoff were 59% and 54% for the Oilers. . . . . .Brewer led the Oilers with six shots on the net while Martin Gelinas had three for the Flames.

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