CALGARY – A lot of shots and a lack of hitting made for classic pond hockey in Sunday’s Tim Hortons Heritage Classic, and that suited Miikka Kiprusoff just fine.
The Calgary goaltender made 39 saves for his fourth shutout this season, and the Flames bucked a trend of host teams losing NHL outdoor games with a 4-0 win over the visiting Montreal Canadiens.
The game was played in front of 41,022, which the NHL declared a sellout, on a cold, clear night at McMahon Stadium.
The frigid temperatures didn’t cool off the red-hot Kiprusoff. He decided not to wear the neoprene wetsuit he tried out during Saturday’s practice because he felt too hot, but put on extra clothes during Sunday’s game.
“The first period was pretty windy,” he said. “I had to add something after the first period, put more clothes on, but we had a lot of good stuff here to use. The last two periods, the second and third I felt all right.”
Rene Bourque scored a pair of goals to get to a career 100. Defenceman Anton Babchuk scored short-handed and Alex Tanguay also struck for Calgary.
“I think it’s right up there with playing your first game, scoring your first goal things like that,” Bourque said of the experience of playing outside.
“It’s just fun to be part of this and playing in front of these people, especially when you’re sitting on the bench and you’re looking out and seeing 40,000 people.”
Montreal goaltender Carey Price turned away 33 of 37 in the loss.
Heading into Sunday’s game, visiting teams were 4-1 outside dating back to the last Heritage Classic in 2003, when the Canadiens edged the host Edmonton Oilers 4-3.
The Boston Bruins are the only other team to win their outdoor game, prevailing 2-1 in overtime in the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park. There have been three other Winter Classic outdoor games: 2007 in Orchard Park, N.Y., 2009 at Chicago’s Wrigley Field and this year’s game at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field.
Calgary’s victory vaulted the Flames over four teams in the Western Conference. The Flames moved into a tie with fifth-place Nashville at 70 points, although the Predators had two games in hand on Calgary.
The Flames (31-22-8) have collected points in 18 of their last 20 games, but the conference is so tight less than 10 points separates third from 12th.
Montreal (31-22-7) dropped to 1-2-2 in their last five games. The Habs were sixth in Eastern Conference and four points back of Boston for the Northeast Division lead.
The temperature Sunday in Calgary didn’t quite make it to the predicted high of -8 C. It was -9 when the puck dropped, but the wind made it feel like -17. By comparison, the CFL West Final between the Stampeders and Roughriders on Nov. 21, 2010, was colder with snow and a wind chill of -24.
The goaltenders don’t skate to stay warm, nor did they have the luxury of returning to the heated bench between shifts.
Price said he wasn’t cold, but said the ice conditions changed from Saturday.
“I thought the ice was a lot harder and a lot bumpier,” he said. “You know what? Calgary played exactly the way they needed to play. They knew the type of game that was coming and they executed the game plan.
“They just threw everything at the net. They got a few good chances and they buried them.”
The Heritage Classic had more hockey-like weather than in the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh on Jan. 1, when 10 C temperatures and rain forced the NHL to delay the start of the game from afternoon to evening.
A 26-kilometre breeze from the south Sunday blew directly into the faces of about 5,000 spectators in the temporary seats. Spectators were popping hot packs into their boots by the start of the second period, but the chill didn’t seem to shorten the lineups for beer.
The majority wore the Flames’ red and cream retro jerseys, but there was also a strong Montreal contingent and some combined jerseys and tuques from both clubs.
“I expected some people to go home,” marvelled Flames captain Jarome Iginla. “I can imagine how cold they were. They didn’t get to warm up the way we do, but they were there to the end having a great time.”
Several players wore eye black under their eyes to reduce the sun’s glare. They didn’t need it for the opening faceoff at 4:25 local time because the setting sun behind the west stands cast a shadow completely covering the ice. The stadium lights reflected brightly off the ice by the third period, however.
Dan Craig’s ice crew pampered the McMahon Stadium ice prior to and during Sunday’s game. They opted to hand spray the surface instead of running re-surfacing machines that weigh 6,300 kilograms over it and risk cracking. They were constantly patching ice along the boards.
“The ice wasn’t great, but it’s better than some NHL rinks we play in,” Iginla said. “It was a little bit bouncy, probably a little bit brittle compared to what we’re used to, but nobody was really complaining about the ice.
“For sure there’s less contact. The ice wasn’t great around the boards. You could see them fixing it all the time. You want to play hard, but you also don’t want to see anyone catch a toe and go into the boards. I think that’s probably part of it.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman wouldn’t commit to a date and location for another Heritage Classic, but said the outdoor game in Calgary was profitable.
“We made a big investment in doing it in Calgary and we think it paid off tremendously,” Bettman said following the game. “As our COO, John Collins, has told a number of you, our sponsor activation and investment in this was higher than any Winter Classic we’ve done.”
Kiprusoff and Calgary’s special teams were the difference in the game with a pair of power-play goals and one short-handed.
Tanguay scored on a goal-mouth feed from Jarome Iginla at 10:53 of the third period. Bourque earned his second of the night at 14:46 of the second period when he cruised in from the boards and tucked a backhand by Price.
Curtis Glencross backhanded the puck up high to Babchuk, whose shot from the top of the faceoff circle beat Price’s glove for a short-handed goal at 12:44.
Bourque scored a power-play goal at 8:09 of the first period when he re-directed a Tanguay shot past Price.
Montreal forward Mike Cammalleri played his first game in a month Sunday after separating his shoulder and assistant captain Hal Gill drew back into the lineup after missing four games with an upper-body injury. Defenceman James Wisniewski also played despite taking a puck in the cheekbone Thursday in Edmonton.