CALGARY – After a tough start to the season, Martin Havlat was just happy to contribute to a win for the Minnesota Wild.
Havlat scored in overtime and added an assist as the Wild edged the Calgary Flames 2-1 Friday. The Wild would like to see more games like this from their big off-season acquisition. Havlat start came into Friday’s game with just two goals, nine assists and a minus-17 rating through 24 games.
“We played hard for 60 minutes, or 65,” said Havlat, who took a cross-ice pass from defenceman Marek Zidlicky before burying a shot behind Miikka Kiprusoff at 3:15 of the extra session. “I don’t know how many we played, but everybody did a great job.”
When asked if it was his personal best game of the season, Havlat chuckled a bit before answering.
“Well I scored a goal,” said the veteran forward, who signed as a free agent with the Wild in the off-season after three seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks. “It was unusual from the last games but it wasn’t just me. I think everybody did a great job. We started very good. I think tonight we just kept it going until the last second. I think we played one of the best games we have played so far this year.”
James Sheppard also scored for the Wild (15-13-3), who have won two in a row and seven of their past eight games.
Aaron Johnson scored the lone goal for the Flames (19-8-4), who played their second straight home game after going 4-2 on a lengthy road trip.
Kiprusoff had a spectacular game, stopping 44 of 46 shots he faced to help earn the Flames a point.
“It’s a shame to waste a performance like that,” said Calgary assistant coach Dave Lowry. “He gave us every opportunity to win.”
Fellow Finnish goalie Niklas Backstrom made 22 saves for the Wild to improve his record to 13-10-3.
The Wild carried the majority of the play in the first period as they outshot the Flames 19-3. Kiprusoff was solid as he turned aside three shots each by Wild forwards Mikko Koivu and Guillaume Latendresse and defenceman Kim Johnsson.
“I don’t think we make any excuses for our performance,” said Lowry. “We weren’t sharp. In the first period, we weren’t a very good hockey team.”
The line of Nigel Dawes, Olli Jokinen and Jarome Iginla put on some early pressure for the Flames early in the second period but couldn’t break the scoreless draw. Dawes had a pair of chances but was stopped by Backstrom twice before defenceman Greg Zanon blocked a Jokinen shot.
The Wild had a great chance top open the scoring when Rene Bourque was sent to the penalty box for closing his hand on the puck, giving Minnesota a two-man advantage for 78 seconds.
While defenceman Robyn Regehr helped out by blocking a pair of shots, it was Kiprusoff who drew the biggest cheers from the crowd when he made a pair of great saves on Wild forward Annti Miettinen, who was searching for his sixth goal in his past six games.
Late in the second period, Dustin Boyd threaded a perfect pass to a wide-open Eric Nystrom in front of the Wild net, but Backstrom turned aside the Calgary forward’s backhand attempt to keep the game scoreless.
Johnson finally broke Backstrom’s shutout bid at 5:10 of the third period when he crept in off the point to blast a shot from the top of the faceoff circle past Backstrom. Curtis Glencross took the initial shot, but the rebound bounced towards Johnson at the left point and the Calgary defenceman capitalized on the scoring chance for his first goal as a Flame.
“It was a hard as I could make it, that’s for sure,” said Johnson. “I was just trying to get on net and obviously excited for my first goal as a Flame.”
Sheppard then drew the Wild even just over four minutes later when a point shot by Shane Hnidy bounced off the end boards and right out front of the net onto his stick. With Kiprusoff looking the other way, Sheppard flipped the puck into the top corner on the short side.
The Wild then continued to pour on the pressure but couldn’t solve Kiprusoff, who turned aside three quality shots off the stick of former Flame Chuck Kobasew to force overtime.
“He played great as he always does,” said Kobasew. “We expect that from him and know it’s going to take great shots to beat him. We stuck with it. We had chances, you can’t let that frustrate you. You keep going.”
NOTES: Calgary has scored the first goal of the game in 24 of 31 games they have played this season and have now compiled a 16-5-3 record in those games. a Calgary defenceman Jay Bouwmeester extended the NHL’s longest current consecutive games streak to 373 games. a The Wild now have an all-time record of 4-18-4 at the Pengrowth Saddledome.