CALGARY – Captain Jarome Iginla was expected to be a big part of Calgary’s playoff push, but the Flames are also getting a lot of help from a 19-year-old emergency callup.
Sven Baertschi scored 17 seconds into the first period in just his fourth NHL game, and Iginla continued his scoring streak with the game-winner as Calgary beat the Phoenix Coyotes 4-1 on Thursday.
“We got a great start, a huge goal there by Baertschi,” Iginla said. “That was sure nice to see that first one. Nice hands.”
That was high praise coming from Iginla, who knows a thing or two about big goals. Iginla has now scored in six straight games and has eight goals and six assists during an eight-game point streak, all in the month of March.
Iginla’s excellent play has helped the Flames (34-25-12) reel off five straight wins to pull within one point of the seventh-place Coyotes (35-26-11) and eighth-place Colorado Avalanche (38-30-5) in the Western Conference standings.
“It’s fun to be back in this playoff race,” Iginla said. “It’s going to be interesting with so many teams here.”
Baertschi is on a nice scoring streak of his own with goals in three straight games, but he said that’s nothing compared to Iginla’s streak.
“I wish I could try to keep up with him,” said Baertschi, who joined the Flames on March on an emergency-recall basis from the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks. “He’s on a different level. He’s a great player. I don’t know if I can ever keep up with that.”
As for whether he will get a chance to run his streak to four games against the Oilers in Edmonton on Friday, Baertschi said he’s just taking things day by day.
“I have no idea,” said the Flames’ first-round choice (13th overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. “Maybe I’ll play tomorrow, maybe not. It’s their decision. As soon as guys come back (from injury) I have to leave.”
Matt Stajan and Alex Tanguay also scored for the Flames.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored for the Coyotes, who were coming off a 5-4 win in Vancouver over the Canucks one night earlier.
“It’s hard to start a game when they score after 17 seconds,” Ekman-Larsson said. “We have to be ready when the puck drops. We know we’re good when we play hard so that’s what we have to do.”
Despite the loss, Phoenix captain Shane Doan pointed out that the Coyotes still have the upper hand over the Flames right now.
“We’re ahead of them in the standings and they’re trying to catch us,” Doan said. “We understand that they’re going to come with desperation and we need to be more desperate than that and we weren’t.”
Miikka Kiprusoff made 27 saves for Calgary to record his 33rd win of the season. Mike Smith stopped 15 shots for Phoenix.
Before many of the 19,829 fans at the Saddledome could get to their seats, Baertschi scored to give the Flames an early 1-0 lead. Forechecking hard in the Phoenix zone, Baertschi intercepted an errant pass in front of the net by Coyotes defenceman Keith Yandle and quickly backhanded a shot over Smith’s glove.
“I saw he had the puck over there and he was looking for the other D so he was trying to pass,” Baertschi said. “I picked off the puck and went on my backhand.”
Later in the opening period, Smith made a nice glove save to stop a slap shot off the stick of Blake Comeau before sliding across his crease to get in front of a heavy shot from the point by Calgary defenceman Anton Babchuk.
At the other end of the ice, Kiprusoff turned aside a slap shot by Ray Whitney before stretching across his crease to deny Ekman-Larsson from knocking in the rebound.
Iginla put the Flames up 2-0 just past the five-minute mark the second when he took a long stretch pass from Mark Giordano and skated into the Phoenix zone before wiring a snap shot to the top corner past Smith.
Ekman-Larsson pulled the Coyotes to within a goal at 17:37 of the middle frame when he took a pass from Whitney and roofed a shot over a sprawling Kiprusoff.
Just 33 seconds later, Stajan put the Flames back up by a pair when he drove hard to the net and redirected a pass from Cory Sarich across the goal-line.
One minute into the third period, Kiprusoff made a save to thwart Whitney on a breakaway attempt, then stopped a long shot from the NHL veteran a short time later.
The Coyotes recorded the first 13 shots on net in the final period before Jokinen finally directed a puck towards Smith just past the 12-minute mark while the Flames were on a power play.
The Flames then added an insurance marker when Curtis Glencross made some nice moves in the offensive zone to set up Tanguay for a short-handed goal.
“This is desperation time,” said Phoenix bench boss Dave Tippett, who’s still in search of his 400th NHL head coaching victory. “For us to come out and play a game like that is unacceptable for our group.”
Notes: Calgary D Jay Bouwmeester played in his 577th straight game to move into sole possession of seventh spot on the NHL’s all-time ironman list. … Meanwhile, Yandle played in his 244th straight game and is second behind Bouwmeester among defenceman on the active consecutive games played list. … Stajan has scored three times in the past four games and has points (three goals, three assists) in five straight.