CALGARY – For a game that didn’t mean much to either team, the Calgary Flames made the most of it.
Mike Cammalleri scored twice and Curtis McElhinney made 35 saves for his first NHL victory as the injury-riddled Calgary Flames capped off a disappointing ending to the regular season with a 4-1 victory Saturday night over the Edmonton Oilers.
Vancouver’s 1-0 overtime victory over Colorado Saturday afternoon clinched the Northwest Division for the Canucks leaving Calgary in fifth place with nothing on the line against the Oilers.
Knowing that their first round opponent would be the fourth place Chicago Blackhawks, Calgary turned to McElhinney in net and he delivered an emotional victory, his first career win coming in his seventh career start and 19th appearance.
After attempting and mostly failing to wipe all the shaving cream from his face after being doused with it post-game, the 25-year-old spoke about finally getting that first victory.
“My left eye is burning considerably right now but for the win, they could put anything in my face tonight. It felt great,” said McElhinney.
It’s been a tough season for the McElhinney, who entered the night with an 0-6-1 record and .877 save percentage. Of the goalies who have played at least 500 minutes, only Pascal Leclaire (.867) and Curtis Joseph (.869) had worse save percentages.
McElhinney has been the back-up for workhorse Miikka Kiprusoff for the past season-and-a-half. He started in the same role last year too before being relieved by Joseph when Calgary added the veteran in a January trade.
“Obviously it’s been a long time,” McElhinney acknowledged. “Unfortunately I’ve been here for over 100 games and I’ve had to be extremely patient playing behind Kip but tonight felt great and it’s a nice way for us to head into the playoffs.”
McElhinney certainly was full marks for his long awaited victory. As Edmonton poured on the pressure in the final 30 seconds of the second period, he made four consecutive sharp saves, three coming off the stick of Ales Kotalik.
“Unbelievable, he was our best player by far,” said Craig Conroy, whose goal at 9:50 put Calgary ahead 3-1.
“He was fun to watch. He is that good. He just doesn’t get many opportunities and when he does, it’s usually back-to-back and you know we haven’t played that well in back-to-backs.”
McElhinney also came up big in the third period jabbing out a pad to foil Ethan Moreau on a short-handed breakaway after he stripped the puck from Jarome Iginla at the Oilers’ blue-line.
“He played well. We had numerous opportunities tonight to take the lead when the game was tight but he came up with some big saves,” said Edmonton centre Shawn Horcoff.
Cammalleri tied the game 1-1 at 8:26 of the second period then scored again at 15:52, his team-leading 39th goal of the year coming on a perfect shot from the slot that found the top corner beyond Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers’ outstretched glove.
Jamie Lundmark also scored for Calgary (46-30-6), which is making its fifth playoff appearance in a row, a streak that dates back to 2003-04 when they went all the way to the final before losing in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Calgary has failed to get out of the first round in the last three seasons.
“Now we know we’re going to start on the road and we’re going to get ready for that,” said Flames captain Jarome Iginla.
“Chicago, we think, is a good match-up for us. It’s going to be a really good atmosphere in both buildings. They’ve got a good young team. It’s going to be great and I’m looking forward to it.”
Tom Gilbert had the lone goal for Edmonton (38-35-9). The Oilers lost eight of their final 11 and miss the playoffs for the third straight year since losing to Carolina in the 2005-06 Stanley Cup final.
“It’s tough to get up for these last couple games when you’re not playing for much,” said Edmonton winger Andrew Cogliano.
“We had so many games that mattered in the past 25 games or so and to come and play two games at the end here that really didn’t matter much was tough.”
As the injuries mounted, salary cap constraints have crippled general manager Darryl Sutter’s ability to call up replacement players resulting in the Flames dressing less than a full line-up for the final six games of the season. For the final two games against Edmonton, Calgary dressed only 15 skaters.
The biggest impact of the ill-timed run of injuries has been to the blue-line where mainstay defencemen Dion Phaneuf (undisclosed), Robyn Regehr (suspected knee injury), and Cory Sarich (foot) are all recent casualties, joining Marc Giordano, who was lost for the season in February. Whether any of the first three will be back for the start of the playoffs is unknown. What is certain is that the salary cap does not factor into playoff games so Calgary will once again have a full bench.
“That will be nice. These two games have been a lot of ice time for a lot of guys,” said Calgary left-winger Eric Nystrom. “It will be good to get a couple days to recover and get the mind right for the real push here.”
Although not a factor Saturday night, Calgary’s much maligned power play again failed to score going 0-for-2. It has not scored in the past 10 games going 0-for-42.
Notes: Replacing Sarich, Regehr, and Phaneuf’s 1681 games of NHL experience have been rookie defencemen Adam Pardy, Matt Pelech, and John Negrin. The latter three have combined for 68 NHL games. . . Among the experienced defenceman that could be available to the Flames for the playoffs are Rhett Warrener, 33, and Anders Eriksson, 34. Warrener (shoulder) has missed the entire season but has been practising with the club. Eriksson has spent the year with Quad City (AHL). Eriksson would have to clear re-entry waivers if he gets recalled. . . Negrin assisted on Lundmark’s goal for his first NHL point. . . Forwards Dustin Penner, Kyle Brodziak, and Robert Nilsson were among the scratches for the Oilers. Each of them played Friday night.