Iginla registered his first three-goal game of the season as the Flames defeated the Minnesota Wild 4-2 on Thursday to move closer to clinching the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. “Those are the kind of things you expect Jarome to do,” teammate Craig Conroy said.
Daymond Langkow also scored in a three-goal first period for Calgary, which stunned Minnesota and goalie Niklas Backstrom with two goals in the first 80 seconds. Backstrom saw only two shots before Wild coach Jacques Lemaire called time and replaced him with Josh Harding.
Flames all-star Miikka Kiprusoff, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL’s top goalie, was once again hard to beat.
After stopping all 38 shots he faced in regulation and overtime in a shootout win against Minnesota here two days before, Kiprusoff made 23 saves in Calgary’s fifth straight victory. The last three of those have been on the road, where the Flames brought only 11 wins – second-fewest in the league – into the game.
They reached 94 points and moved to within four points of the Wild and further ahead of ninth-place Colorado, which had 85 points before a later game at Phoenix.
“We want to close it out. We want to earn our playoff spot,” Iginla said.
If they keep this up, they certainly will.
“This is the time of year you want to be playing sharp,” Langkow said.
Brent Burns and Mark Parrish scored power-play goals for Minnesota, which fell behind 3-1 on Iginla’s second goal with 12 seconds left in the first and was stuck in a sluggish game of dump-and-chase for most of the evening.
Adam Hall had a prime chance to cut the lead to one in the closing seconds of the second when Parrish’s perfect pass found him on the edge of the crease. But Hall’s shot went wide right.
“It was a little bit of a bump in the road tonight,” Parrish said.
The Wild have been one of the NHL’s best teams over the past two months, highlighted by a nine-game winning streak that ended with that shootout defeat to Calgary. Lemaire, however, expressed mild concern this week about peaking too soon – wishing the postseason was beginning now.
Minnesota clinched the second playoff appearance in the franchise’s six seasons Tuesday when the Avalanche lost, and it was easy to see what Lemaire was worried about when Langkow and Iginla gave the Flames a 2-0 lead before most fans were settled in their seats.
“Now that we achieved a spot in the playoffs, maybe the guys feel we have a couple of games that we can play easier,” Lemaire said. “But it won’t work. It just won’t work.”
With his back turned to the goal, Langkow stretched his stick out with one hand and knocked a pass from Brad Stuart in with 62 seconds elapsed. Then 18 seconds later, Iginla’s snap shot from the right circle slid past Backstrom and prompted Lemaire to call timeout. He paced back and forth on the bench behind his players while barking at them during the break.
Backstrom, who won seven of the games during the Wild’s streak, has been one of the league’s best goaltenders since incumbent Manny Fernandez got hurt in late January. This, obviously, was not one of those exemplary performances, but Backstrom was not necessarily at fault.
Lemaire conferred with assistant coach Mike Ramsey during the timeout and made the switch to preserve some of Backstrom’s confidence.
“I didn’t want him to be back there if we were going to be playing like this,” Lemaire said.
Notes: Iginla, with 36 points in 35 games, is the all-time leader in scoring against Minnesota. … Wild defenceman Petteri Nummelin missed his third straight game with a groin injury. … This was the first three-game road winning streak reached by Calgary in three years. … Burns has four goals this month and seven this season. He had only five in 108 career games coming into the season.