CALGARY – It took 37 games but Craig Conroy finally got his first goal of the season Wednesday night, and it came with a standing ovation.
Conroy’s second-period goal stood up as the game-winner as the Calgary Flames won 2-1 over the Los Angeles Kings. Conroy scored into an empty net after Eric Nystrom knocked Kings goaltender Erik Ersberg into the end boards, knocking him off the puck, and Rene Bourque quickly passed it out to the 38-year-old centre.
“I just happened to be in the right spot – finally. I haven’t felt like I’ve been in the right spot all year,” said Conroy. “When it finally went in, seeing that red light was all I was waiting for.”
The appreciative sell-out crowd of 19,289 immediately rose to their feet to salute the longtime fan favourite.
“That’s what makes it so special for me playing in Calgary,” said Conroy. “If I’m walking into Wal-Mart or wherever I am, they’re like: ‘You’re going to get one, don’t worry Connie’. It’s a special place for me and why I have such a fondness to play here.”
The game got off to a rousing start with Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf ejected five minutes into the first period after ramming Kings leading scorer Anze Kopitar into the boards in the Flames end.
Phaneuf was assessed a boarding major and game misconduct on the play, which resulted in the 22-year-old Slovenian having his helmet fly off as his head hit the dasher where the boards meets the glass.
Kings defenceman Sean O’Donnell was one of the first players to jump into the scrum after the hit.
“It’s just a dirty play,” said O’Donnell. “We talk about the players not having respect and why are there so many concussions. He didn’t have to do that. He plays hard, he’s not the brightest guy, he runs around a little bit.
“It was a play that didn’t have to happen. There’s one thing to play hard. (Robyn) Regehr plays hard, (Jarome) Iginla plays hard, (Daymond) Langkow plays hard. He just plays stupid sometimes.”
Kopitar remained down for a couple minutes before leaving the ice on his own power. While the penalties from the ensuing melee were being sorted out, even coaches Brent Sutter of the Flames and Terry Murray of the Kings got into it with a heated verbal exchange from behind their respective benches.
“That’s one of the dirtiest hits in the game,” said Murray afterwards. “That’s been addressed at the league level and that’s why the referee called a game misconduct.”
Sutter saw it differently.
“It’s a non-call. The icing was waved off, it’s a foot race for the puck,” Sutter said.
Kopitar did not end up missing any shifts and the riled-up Pengrowth Saddledome crowd soundly booed Kopitar each time he touched the puck the rest of the game.
Conroy’s goal came less than two minutes after Scott Parse had tied the game for Los Angeles, beating Miikka Kiprusoff from a sharp angle 15 seconds into the second period.
Bourque had a goal and an assist for the Flames (22-12-5), who won consecutive games for the first time in a month and snapped a three-game winless skid on home ice.
The suddenly struggling Kings (22-15-3) have lost four games in a row, each of the defeats coming by one goal.
“Losing by one goal is a little frustrating,” Murray said. “You have to find a way to turn it around. We played pretty hard tonight, we had our chances, but (Miikka) Kiprusoff was very good.”
It was the second strong start in a row for Kiprusoff, who was pulled after a dreadful first period against the Vancouver Canucks last Sunday.
After a 34 save performance Monday in the Flames 4-1 win in Edmonton, Kiprusoff made 23 saves to improve to 20-10-5.
Making just his second start in the past six weeks, Ersberg had 20 stops to fall to 2-2-0.
Trailing 2-1, Dustin Brown got pulled down on a partial breakaway while short-handed and was given a penalty shot. However, Brown lost control of the puck and never got a shot on goal.
Calgary got on the scoreboard first when Jay Bouwmeester neatly set up Bourque for a redirection at 6:21 of the first.
“We have to play better at home, we all know that, and part of that is playing with intensity and emotion,” said Nystrom. “We came out and were physical early and that’s the way we have to play if we want to be successful and I don’t think they were too happy with that.”
Notes: Calgary D Cory Sarich (broken toe) is back practising with the club. He has missed the past 17 games… Twelve of the Kings past 14 games have been decided by one goal… Calgary D Mark Giordano (four goals, 11 assists) has tied his career high for points in a season… For the first two games since the loss of Justin Williams (broken leg), Teddy Purcell has taken over that spot on the Kings top line with Anze Kopitar and Ryan Smyth… The Flames power play continues to struggle going 0-for-5. Calgary is now 5-for-51 in the past 12 games.