DENVER – With Colorado reeling and Calgary rolling, the Western Conference playoff race just became a lot more entertaining.
Miikka Kiprusoff stopped 35 shots to help the Calgary Flames beat the Colorado Avalanche 2-1 on Friday night and move into a points tie with the eighth-place Avalanche. The Flames have won three straight but this was the game they had to have to keep realistic post-season hopes afloat.
“We were taking it like Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals,” said Rene Bourque, who scored his 26th goal of the season early in the third period. “That’s how we have to treat every game from now on.”
Calgary has made up ground in a hurry. The Flames trailed Colorado by nine points heading into a game against the Avalanche on March 17. Now the teams are tied with 89 points. The Avalanche have five games left, compared to four for Calgary, and own the tiebreaker based on one more win than the Flames.
Colorado is stumbling toward the finish, going 1-6-1 in its last eight games.
The Avalanche insist they won’t panic and still believe they have time to get back on track.
“The ball’s in our court,” Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson said. “We’ve got to win our games, that’s the bottom line.”
In their biggest game of the season, the Avalanche looked listless for much of it. The packed crowd kept waiting for them to break out. The offence came to life when T.J. Galiardi punched a shot past Kiprusoff to cut the deficit to 2-1 early in the third period.
From there, Colorado threw a barrage of shots at Kiprusoff, who firmly held his ground. Kiprusoff swatted away Ryan O’Reilly’s point-blank shot in front of the net with his glove.
That was merely a warmup act.
Later, Chris Stewart had the puck on his stick near the goal crease, only to have Kiprusoff suddenly reach out his left pad and stuff the shot.
“One pretty lucky save there,” Kiprusoff said.
Bourque knows better.
“I see these highlight-reel saves all the time,” he said. “But I’m still amazed at how he stops them and keeps them out of the net. It’s unbelievable. I think he’s the best goalie in the league.”
Stewart wished he could have a mulligan on that shot.
“Nine times out of 10 I should bury that,” Stewart said. “Kiprusoff made a (heck) of a save.
Still trailing late, the Avalanche wanted to pull Anderson with a minute remaining, but couldn’t get the puck up ice. He finally skated off with around 35 seconds left, but the Avalanche couldn’t score the tying goal.
Their season is now hanging in the balance.
“Keep positive,” captain Adam Foote said. “We lost a 2-1 game, a bounce here, a bounce there. It’s such a fine line. You can’t let what’s happening now drain a young team.”
Anderson, who stopped 25 shots, might be running out of energy. He entered the game leading the NHL in shots faced and saves. He has already set franchise records for starts (68) and logged more than 4,000 minutes, another team mark.
“Craig has been fine,” Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said at the morning skate. “He’s been solid for us all season long. He’s probably harder on himself than anybody here.”
Nigel Dawes scored the first goal early in the second period, sending a wrist shot over the left shoulder of Anderson. He paid a price, though, crashing into the net and knocking it off its pegs. Dawes raised his hands soon after scoring his 14th goal.
“It was the biggest game for us to date,” Flames coach Brent Sutter said. “Now, the next one becomes that.”
NOTES: Flames F Eric Nystrom played in his 200th NHL game. … Avalanche F Paul Stastny added his 57th assist on Galiardi’s goal. … The return of Stephane Yelle (leg) and Brandon Yip (shoulder) couldn’t spark the Avalanche. Yip has missed 14 games. … Colorado won the season series with Calgary, 4-2. … Bourque had six goals against Colorado this season.