CALGARY – Well on his way to posting his best offensive numbers of his career, there is a different reason Calgary left-winger Mike Cammalleri is pumped up these days.
It’s the prospect of playing in his first ever NHL playoff game.
Cammalleri scored his 31st and 32nd goals of the season Friday night to lead the Calgary Flames to their fourth straight win, a 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild.
With six weeks to go in the season, Calgary leads the Northwest Division by 10 points over the Vancouver Canucks.
“Playing with all these guys has been really enjoyable but the real exciting part is the way we’re playing coming down the stretch here and the idea of competing in the playoffs,” said Cammalleri.
“That’s all stuff that gets me really excited. I can’t wait.”
Cammalleri signed to a one-year contract in the off-season by the Flames after beginning his career with the Los Angeles Kings, who never qualified for the post-season during his five seasons there.
After a lacklustre first period in which the teams combined for a meagre 11 shots, Calgary surged in front striking 20 seconds apart in the opening minute of the second period.
Jarome Iginla and Craig Conroy set up Cammalleri near the face-off dot to make it 1-0 at 17 seconds.
“It’s easy to get impatient and try to press it and then you start making mistakes and that’s what they’re hoping for,” said Cammalleri, who is two goals off his career best of 34 goals set in 2006-07.
“We had to stay patient and try not to get frustrated against a team that does some good things defensively and then we got rewarded there in that second.”
After the centre ice face off, the Flames went right back to the attack. Minnesota desperately attempted to clear the puck away from the front of the net but it went right to an unmanned Dion Phaneuf at the blue-line, who ripped a wicked slapshot through a crowd of bodies to make it 2-0.
“Dion can shoot the puck as we all know. It’s tough on the goaltender when you have bodies in front and you can’t see what’s coming,” said Flames coach Mike Keenan. “That’s basically how that unfolded and I think that really energized our team.”
Phaneuf’s ninth gives him goals in consecutive games for the first time this season. The 23-year-old’s offensive numbers are down substantially this year after scoring 20, 17, 17 goals respectively in his first three NHL seasons.
“Sometimes your shots get through, and sometimes they don’t, you just have to keep playing your game and not changing things,” Phaneuf said.
Jamie Lundmark also scored for Calgary (37-18-6), which has picked up points in each its last nine (7-0-2).
Scoring the lone goal for Minnesota (30-25-5) was Wild defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron spoiling Miikka Kiprusoff’s shutout with 3:36 left.
Since coming into the league, Minnesota has had a miserable time in Calgary. They are 3-17-4 all-time and 1-13-2 in their last 16 trips to the Pengrowth Saddledome.
“It was a tough night for us. I don’t think we were even close,” said Backstrom, who made 25 saves. “They scored a couple big goals in the beginning of the second and the game was over. We need to get better tomorrow. It’s going to take a whole 60 minutes.”
Desperately clinging to a playoff spot in the Western Conference, the Wild remain part of a pack of four teams tied for seventh place. One of the teams they’re even with is the Edmonton Oilers, who the Wild play Saturday night in the second stop of its season-high six-game road trip.
“You just try to move on and you make sure that you’re ready to play tomorrow,” said Bergeron. “Edmonton is a team that’s fighting for its life also. We’ve got to make sure that we’re ready to go. If they score one or two quick goals, we can’t get our head between our legs and quit. We’ve got to keep playing and we’ve got to keep playing hard.”
The Wild noticeably missed the presence of former Flame and leading goal scorer Owen Nolan, who missed his second game with a broken toe”.
It was most apparent when the Wild received a 1:31 two-man advantage in the first period with the game scoreless. Without the veteran setting himself up in the slot, the Wild failed to generate a shot on goal on that opportunity and would end up with just 16 shots on the game.
Notes: Iginla’s assists gives him 829 career points, one back of Theoren Fleury (830), Calgary’s all-time leader. . . . Up from Quad Cities (AHL) to make his NHL debut for Calgary was LW David Van der Gulik. The 25-year-old was selected by the Flames 206th overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. . . . Kiprusoff improves to 23-6-3 versus Minnesota for his career. He has the most wins against the Wild of any opposition goalie. . . . Sarich’s assist was No. 100 for his career and No. 16 for the season tying his season-high for assists set in 2003-04 with Tampa Bay. . . . The Wild were beginning a 32-day stretch in which 14 of their next 17 games are on the road.