COLUMBUS, Ohio – With a lineup full of young players, the Calgary Flames knew they’d have to get off to a quick start.
So far, so good.
Jiri Hudler and Curtis Glencross scored goals 42 seconds apart in the third period in a 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night, giving the Flames three points in a difficult back-to-back road trip to start the season.
“It’s huge for us,” said T.J. Galiardi, who had a goal and an assist. “Confidence goes a long way in this league. It’s only two games, but to come out with three points out of four—and we could have had four points—we’re going to build off of it.”
Almost as big as the team’s early jump has been the effective play of 18-year-old prized rookie Sean Monahan.
The first-round draft pick this past summer, taken No. 6 overall, followed up an assist in the opener with his first NHL goal.
“It’s one day at a time, one shot a time,” he said. “I’m learning a lot and I feel like I’m getting better every day.”
As Monahan crashed the net with defenceman James Wisniewski on his hip, Lee Stempniak put a shot on goal that Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky deflected. But Monahan was there to jam in the puck to open the scoring.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said of his first goal. “Once it went in, I was pretty happy. It was a great feeling and most importantly I’m happy that we won that game.”
This was supposed to be a transitional year for the Flames after franchise goalie Miikka Kiprusoff’s retirement and the trade of captain Jarome Iginla last season.
“It’s not very complicated,” coach Bob Hartley said. “Our recipe right now (is) we’re going to work, play with passion, guys are blocking shots, driving—we’re a team now.”
Goalie Joey MacDonald made 29 saves, including several big ones after the Blue Jackets pulled within a goal on Artem Anisimov’s goal with 4:13 remaining and turned up the pressure.
Jack Johnson and Marian Gaborik each had a goal and an assist for the Blue Jackets, brimming with optimism after a strong finish to last season.
“I think the speed of the game caught some guys off guard,” Columbus coach Todd Richards said. “(The Flames) countered really well. They work extremely hard. You’ve got to give them credit. There were times when we’d just pick our head up and somebody would be there. They forced some turnovers.”
Bobrovsky, winner of the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie last year, made 26 saves.
The Flames were active and aggressive all night—but particularly with the game on the line late.
With the score tied at 2, Hudler gave Calgary the lead for good with 7:50 left in the third. He sped up the left wing and let go of a slap shot from the left dot that beat Bobrovsky glove side.
Almost before that goal could be announced, the Flames scored again.
During a scrum in front of the net, David Jones’ shot was stopped by Bobrovsky, but two Blue Jackets got sticks on the rebound in an attempt to clear it, shoving it directly to Glencross on the weak side for an easy goal.
“We have to be resilient in the game,” said Hudler, who praised Monahan as a key contributor who has led by example.
“Things are going to happen that won’t go our way. Tonight was another great game, a great effort by the guys. We held on at the end—I wouldn’t say held on, but we did a good job of holding the lead.”
Columbus, annually near the bottom of the NHL on the power play, scored on its first chance this season with the man advantage.
Gaborik collected the puck near the blue line and skated to the top of the left circle before sliding a nifty cross-ice pass to Johnson for the one-timer from the right circle.
Columbus rookie Ryan Murray then flipped a blind pass that Galiardi intercepted, carrying the puck down the ice with the Blue Jackets scrambling to catch him. He coasted in on Bobrovsky, faked the forehand and then scored on a backhand that appeared to go in off the tip of Bobrovsky’s glove.
Gaborik then tied it once again, chipping in Brandon Dubinsky’s effort play on a rebound.
“We tied it up and they got two big goals,” Gaborik said. “The third period, it was really nervous hockey. We have to execute better and learn from the things we didn’t do well today.”
Notes: Columbus native Jack Nicklaus was the guest for the ceremonial puck drop. His Muirfield Village Golf Club is hosting the Presidents Cup this week. … Columbus LW R.J. Umberger played in his 600th career game, while Glencross, a former Blue Jacket, played in his 400th.
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