CALGARY – With headliner Jarome Iginla mired in his longest goal-scoring slump in three seasons, the Calgary Flames supporting cast came through on Tuesday night.
Stephane Yelle scored the tying goal then set up Craig Conroy’s game-winner at 8:36 of the third period as the Flames won 2-1 over the Minnesota Wild to take over first place in the NHL’s Northwest Division.
The Wild entered the night as the division leader, one point up on the Flames and the Colorado Avalanche, who lost 4-0 to the Nashville Predators.
“If you can develop that kind of depth with secondary scoring, it takes a lot of pressure off the guys that are going to be checked the hardest throughout the games,” said Flames coach Mike Keenan.
It was Conroy’s eighth goal of the season and just the third of the year for Yelle. Each player has scored in consecutive games for the first time this season.
“It’s good to see that those guys are contributing,” Keenan said. “It’s encouraging that they can build some offensive confidence as well as play well defensively.”
Brian Rolston scored the lone goal for Minnesota (27-19-3). The Wild, who won 4-2 in Vancouver Monday night, wrap up their three-game road trip in Colorado on Thursday.
“You’re not going to see anybody run away with it,” said Rolston said of the competitive Northwest. “All the teams are going to stay bunched up and it’s going to be those teams that can stay the most consistent down the stretch that are going to be in the playoffs.”
Calgary (25-17-8) heads into an extended all-star break on a three-game winning streak. The Flames do not return to action until next Wednesday when they play host to the San Jose Sharks.
On the decisive goal, Yelle kept the puck in at the blue-line knocking it forward to Owen Nolan. The veteran forward steered the puck across to Conroy cutting across the slot, and the Flames centre lifted a backhander over the blocker of goaltender Josh Harding.
“I had passed up a few shots earlier. They said shoot it, so I just threw a backhander in there and it was nice to see it go in,” Conroy said. “It’s so close. We knew going into the third that Colorado had lost and if we win this we go into the break in first place.”
Harding was excellent in goal for the Wild, making 35 saves. Among those unable to solve the rookie was Iginla, who has now been blanked in his last seven games – his longest scoring slump since a nine-game goalless stretch from Nov. 16-Dec. 25, 2005.
Miikka Kiprusoff made 23 saves for the Flames.
Calgary pulled even at 1-1 early in the second period. As Matthew Lombardi skated behind the Wild net, he neatly backhanded a pass into the slot where Yelle, left uncovered by defenceman Keith Carney, snapped a shot into the top corner over Harding’s glove.
“We all play to score goals, get assists and help out the team and sometimes when it’s not going your way offensively, it becomes a grind,” said Yelle. “When you get a couple goals like that, it helps you out with your confidence and makes it fun.”
Minnesota took the early lead when Rolston ripped a slapshot past Kiprusoff from the top off the face-off circle 3:31 into the game.
“That’s what it came down to, one mistake by us,” said Rolston. “It’s frustrating, for sure, but the promising part of it is we played with a lot of poise tonight. A lot of times when we get down by a goal, we let them really come and storm us. Tonight, that wasn’t the case.”
The game was delayed twice in the first period thanks to Calgary defenceman Dion Phaneuf, who pulled off the unusual feat of shattering a pane of glass twice in the same period. Phaneuf shattered the first pane with a slap shot high and wide of the Minnesota net with 6:21 left in the first period.
The second pane, in nearly the same spot, shattered just as the first period ended on a 120-foot blast from the Calgary blue-line, resulting in a short delay to the start of the second period.
Notes: Nolan (neck) returned after missing one game. Calgary D Rhett Warrener also returned after sitting out the previous three games as a healthy scratch. He replaced D Anders Eriksson (shoulder). .. Minnesota RW Mark Parrish (bruised foot) sat out after getting hit by a Sami Salo slap shot Monday night. .. The Wild drop to 7-2-1 in the second game of back-to-back games. .. Kiprusoff has now gone 54 games since his last shutout, which came against Minnesota on Mar. 27, 2007. Prior to this stretch, he had 21 shutouts in 181 games with the Flames, an average of one every nine games.