ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Calgary Flames haven’t conceded anything. The calendar, after all, is still on November.
Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla had third-period goals to pad Calgary’s lead and help stop a three-game losing streak for the Flames with a 5-2 win on Sunday night over the Minnesota Wild.
The Flames wrapped up this four-game road trip the right way, controlling the pace and flow from start to finish against the Northwest Division-leading Wild. The Flames had fallen to 13th place in the Western Conference with seven losses in 10 games.
“People think it’s over after 22 games, and we don’t believe it is,” Iginla said. “So this is definitely a big boost, to be able to break out goals against this team.”
It was a badly-needed performance—against a division rival no less.
“If anything it reaffirms that we can do it. That’s one of the best teams in the NHL, and for the most part I think we took the game to them all night,” Stempniak said. “I think it’s sort of a stepping stone.”
Matt Giordano, Lee Stempniak and T.J. Brodie scored during a furious first period, and Mikka Kiprusoff steadied himself after the early barrage to make 19 saves for the Flames. He improved to 26-15-5 in his career against the Wild.
“Nobody’s happy with where we’re at in the standings, but nobody’s giving up,” Iginla said.
Cal Clutterbuck and Nick Johnson had goals in that first half of the first period for the Wild, but goalie Niklas Backstrom was pulled for Josh Harding after the Flames took a 3-2 lead.
“The good news is I don’t think we can play worse than that. That’s something to fall back on,” Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said.
After a scoreless second period, Harding skated out to grab the puck and clear it behind the net, but Stempniak pressured him—like a quarterback hurry in football—into a sloppy pass. Tanguay was waiting on the other side to shoot it in.
Then Iginla, who was recently separated from Tanguay in an attempt by coach Brent Sutter to mix up his lines and re-ignite the attack, muscled inside of Justin Falk to tip in a pass from Curtis Glencross.
“We’ve worked hard at getting our game in order,” Sutter said.
Iginla, the all-time leading scorer against the Wild with 32 goals in 63 games, jawed at the home team on his way off the ice and got doused with some water. Minnesota got a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. Iginla said he was yelled at his entire shift but that he had “no hard feelings.”
Backstrom was in the net for the first time in four games—he was tending to a personal matter this week—and faced only eight shots before his removal. His streak of 162-plus minutes without allowing a goal against the Flames ended, and he was yanked from a home game for the first time in nearly two years.
Former Wild enforcer, the late Derek Boogaard, was honoured with a highlight video of his best hits. His ex-teammates gave flowers, hugs and handshakes to his family on the ice before the game. But the emotion of the moment was difficult to turn off.
“You have to find a way to play, one way or another,” Backstrom said. “But I have to say it was tough. Really tough.”
After losing at home to the Edmonton Oilers 5-2 on Friday, this was not the response Yeo was looking for from a team that boasted the NHL’s best record earlier this week before dropping the last two games. The Wild had won 10 of their previous 12 going into Thanksgiving Day.
At the tail end of a power play that started 28 seconds into the game, Mikko Koivu notched his team-leading 14th assist with a touch pass to Clutterbuck, who was alone on the wing and made a slick left-right move on Kiprusoff for a backhanded tuck.
But Giordano struck back for Calgary, stealing the puck by the boards from Pierre-Marc Bouchard and sneaking a bad-angle shot past Backstrom. Stempniak followed with a highlight-reel fake to skate past Marco Scandella and send a shot straight between Backstrom’s pads.
After Johnson tied the score, Backstrom let in another five-hole goal 39 seconds later when Brodie’s backhander for his first NHL score—he said he was trying to send a backdoor pass to TimJackman—slipped through for a 3-2 lead.
“This can’t happen again. It’s about our effort and the way we should play the game and support each other out here,” Koivu said, “and it’s something we need to learn from.”
Notes: Backstrom was 5-0-1 with an 0.88 goals against average in his last seven starts against the Flames. … The Flames are 8-0 when leading after two periods. … The Wild didn’t register a shot on net in the third period until the final 3 1/2 minutes.