VANCOUVER – If the Calgary Flames were looking to provoke Vancouver head coach John Tortorella into losing his cool again, this time he wasn’t taking the bait.
Defenceman Yannick Weber scored the go-ahead goal early in the third period and the Canucks breathed a sigh of relief with a 2-1 win on Saturday night.
It was the first meeting between the teams since a fierce line brawl broke out two seconds into a game on Jan. 18 that saw 150 penalty minutes assessed. Tortorella had a meltdown that night and went after Flames head coach Bob Hartley by storming Calgary’s locker-room during intermission.
Tortorella, furious at Hartley for icing his fourth line to start the game, served a 15-day suspension and the struggling Canucks have been in free fall ever since.
Hartley started tough guy Brian McGrattan again on Saturday night, but this time the gloves stayed mostly on.
“We didn’t even talk about it in our locker room,” Tortorella said of Hartley’s starting line. “We needed to play. We have to scratch, claw and grind and find pints anyway possible.”
Darren Archibald also scored for the struggling Canucks, who snapped a four game slide and came into Saturday as losers of 11 of their last 12 games, including Thursday’s dispiriting 6-1 drubbing in Texas that defenceman Kevin Bieksa called “rock bottom” for the team.
McGrattan had the only goal for Calgary, which had won its last two and three of its last five games.
The teams played nice until six minutes into the game when Vancouver’s Bieksa got the better of Calgary’s Mark Giordano with a mean right hand after the two dropped gloves. Giordano headed to the dressing room after, but returned later in the period.
“I could tell that Gio was good,” said Hartley. “It was just a gash that needed to be fixed.”
The Canucks had their chances early, including a 2-on-1 against Flames goalie Joni Ortio, but David Booth fired the puck wide to keep his goal drought in tact. Booth hasn’t scored since Dec. 17.
The absence of Canucks stalwart goalie Roberto Luongo—traded on Tuesday to Florida—was sharply felt at 2:13 of the second when a harmless looking slap shot by McGrattan near centre ice somehow eluded new No. 1 Eddie Lack. The crowd groaned and Tortorella shook his head in disbelief.
“I just wanted to throw one on net. I was at the end of my shift and fortunately it went in,” said McGrattan. “It was a muck and grind game. A lot of sloppy plays at both ends; the puck was bouncing everywhere. Those are good tests to see what you’re made of.”
Lack says he didn’t let the bad goal take him mentally out of the game.
“I am just telling myself to get going again, and try to focus on the next save,” he said. “And the guys got a goal really quick and that took the pressure off.”
Vancouver evened the game three minutes later with a goal almost as ugly. With three Canucks crowding Ortio in the crease, Archibald whacked in the puck for his first career NHL goal. It breathed some life into the Rogers Arena, which didn’t have much to cheer with only eight Vancouver shots compared to the Flames’ 14 through two periods.
“It’s never a bad play to stuff it and crash the net and get a greasy one,” said Archibald. “That’s part of my game—win battles down low—and I kind of won a battle and stuffed it from behind the net and pitchforked it in.”
Action picked up in the third as Canuck Ryan Kesler was stopped by Ortio on a point-blank shot in the slot, while at the other end, Lance Bouma missed on a wide-open net with Lack way out of position.
Bouma has seen increased playing time lately as Hartley grows more confident in young winger.
“I’m gaining confidence every game,” said Bouma. “The coach is putting a lot of trust in me and playing me in key situations. I’m just trying to learn as much as I can, and I feel like it’s been going pretty well.”
Weber scored the go-ahead goal five minutes into the third when he banged home a rebound off a shot from new teammate Shawn Matthias, who came to Vancouver from the Panthers in the Luongo trade.
“Maybe it wasn’t the prettiest goals, but that’s how we have to get out of our slump,” said Weber.
“We played a gritty game, and got some ugly goals and that’s the way we have to play.”
Calgary had a chance to tie the game with two power-play chances thanks to Vancouver’s Chris Higgins in the final five minutes, but the Flames couldn’t capitalize. Higgins had three straight penalties in the third period.
Despite Vancouver’s recent hard times, the team is still only four points out of a playoff spot after Dallas’s 4-3 win against Minnesota on Saturday. Calgary (25-32-7) remains second last in the Pacific Division.
Lack finished with 22 saves, while Ortio stopped 12 at the other end for Calgary. The Canucks (29-27-10) eclipsed their season-low of 20 shots.
Notes: Saturday night marked the 10-year anniversary of former-Canuck Todd Bertuzzi’s on-ice attack on Steve Moore. The former Avalanche forward, who never played again in the NHL, filed a $38-million dollar lawsuit against Bertuzzi and the Canucks. A trial date has been set for Sept. 8. … Canucks forward Zack Kassian served the first game of his three-game suspension after boarding Stars defenceman Brenden Dillon on Thursday. … Attendance was 18,910.