Hagman Leads the Charge

Well, the Flames aren’t going to go gently into that good night. Still alive after the 3-1 win over the Ducks yesterday, the post-season chances increased to about 20% – though at this point quoting the percentages is a bit like C-3P0 noting the odds of successfully flying through an asteroid field I think.

The Flames were full value for the win last night. They outshot and outplayed the Sharks, mostly on the back of Niklas Hagman’s "best game as a Flame". The tenacious Fin was all over the ice, generating quality chances almost every shift and finally being rewarded with the third tally (his second since he arrived). He finished the evening with 5 shots on net in about 18 minutes of ice.

Guys like Backlund and Brett Sutter managed to fill in admirably with Daymond Langkow on the shelf. The Ducks are a perilously thin club up front, so the job was a manageable one, but it doesn’t lessen the fact that the two rookies kept their heads above water. The two kids centered the third and fourth lines respectively and each saw about 10 minutes of ice. Backlund again displayed some of the offensive skills he’s known for, although his best play came in the defensive zone when he denied Teemu Selanne a shot at an empty net in the first period.

Of special note is the fact that the lines and match-ups were shuffled last night and this, I’m afraid, is where I have to get negative again.

Half way through the first period, Brent Sutter dropped Rene Bourque "down" to skate with Craig Conroy and Ales Kotalik. Hagman moved up to his spot on the Stajan and Iginla line. What’s more important, however, is the fact that Brent Sutter then stuck the Conroy unit like glue to Getzlaf and Perry. This is significant because Sutter has been fairly wishy-washy in his line matching this season, often going with a "as long as one of my top two units is out" versus power approach (aside from the first couple of months of the ill-fated Iginla/Jokinen experiment). So, with the final change at home in a must-win game, Butter rated Bourque and Conroy as the best option to face the Ducks one (and probably only) offensive threat.

Why is that significant? Because he chose them over Jarome Iginla. I’ve been struggling with Jarome’s apparent decline this season, wondering to what degree his apparent struggles were due to circumstances or aging, wrestling with my memories of his previous dominance. I think Butter’s been doing the same. But last night, with the season on the line, the decision was made – shelter the captain. The implications of that revelation and what it means for this club going forward is a much larger issue and one we’ll tackle in the off-season I think.

For now – woo! We’re alive!

Three Stars

1.) Nik Hagman – Best Flames forward on the ice last night, Hagman took the ball and ran with it when he was elevated to the first line.

2.) Jarome Iginla – Two assists including the defensive zone poke-check that led to Bourque’s break-away and GWG

3.) Jay Bouwmeester – He, like Iginla, was gifted the easier circumstances last night (for once) and he took advantage. JayBow was well in the black in terms of possession and added a couple of assists and a +1 rating.

The Big Hit

None that I can recall

The Big Fight

Brett Sutter dropped the gloves with the Ducks Festerling inside his first shift. He quickly dumped his adversary to the ice, scoring the victory.

The Big Save

About five minutes into the third period, Miikka Kiprusoff stopped Corey Perry on a break-away, preserving the two goal lead.

What it Means

The Flames are now just two back of the Detroit Red Wings. With NYI and BOS ahead in the schedule, this is the Flames best opportunity to get back on even footing with Detroit in the race.

What’s Next

The already out-of-it Islanders in New York on Thursday night.