Hope Springs Eternal

The Flames and Ducks managed to breath new life into the Flames dying playoff hopes last night. With Calgary’s win and the Colorado loss, the Flames are now just two points behind the faltering Avs for the final playoff position. Curtis McElhinney says "you’re welcome"

As for the game in particular, it wasn’t exactly an inspiring victory. Calgary spent more of the night in their own zone and were therefore outshot and outchanced. Style points are out the window now and obviously the only thing that matters is the outcome, but I think it’s safe to say that the hockey gods paid the Flames back a bit for all the crap they took during that 9 game losing streak in January.

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As is usually the case in a 2-1 affair, there wasn’t a lot of stand-out performances aside from the goaltending. Kipper was positively peppered at both the start and the finish of the contest and he managed to be both excellent enough and lucky enough to preserve the ‘W’. Calgary’s third unit of Conroy, Moss and Dawes enjoyed a good night in terms of effort and moving the puck forward; although the one time they did falter the it ended up in the back of the net. Mikael Backlund also had himself another decent game (aside from his frist couple of shifts where he visibly struggled in the defensive zone), setting up Kotalik’s* game winning goal with a solid pass.

*(Not an April Fool’s joke)

On the bad side of things, Calgary’s first and last lines were fairly impotent. Mayers, Nystrom and Sutter were completely outclassed by their counterparts. They spent more than one shift runnning around helplessly which is a bit reversal of fortunes for Nystrom et al. Since Mayers arrived and kicked McGrattan upstairs, the "energy line" has typically been full value, although the substution of Sutter for Glencross is a clear downgrade. One wonders whether Chris Higgins will land on that unit should he return before the season ends. If so, I’d expect them to regain their previous form.

Iginla, Stajan and Hagman didn’t do anything in particular. They mostly faced off against the ‘Yotes top line of Lombardi, Stemnniak and Wolski and they ended up underwater across the board in terms of underlying numbers (-8 in scoring chances, -19 in terms of corsi) – and that’s despite the fact they all started more often in the offensive zone. Considering they weren’t exactly playing against Datsyuk or Crosby (and were on home ice to boot!) that’s an extremely lackluster evening from the Flames supposed top offensive unit.

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Matt Stajan was particularly ineffective to my eye. He gave the puck away all over the ice, especially in the shallow end of the offensive zone. At one point, I wondered if he had been benched because of his mediocre play – truth was, he was just that invisible. The former Leaf’s performance of late has me eyeing his recent contract anxiously and wondering to what degree Sutter may have overpaid.

Anyways, the details are rather unimportant at this juncture. Any win is a good win.

Three Stars

1.) Miikka Kiprusoff – Held the Flames in it when the Coyotes pressed at various intervals. Primary reason the team won

2.) Wojtek Wolski – Just loves to dominate the Flames. Generated a ton of chances and set up the Coyotes lone goal.

3.) Mikael Backlund – Some solid passing throughout the evening, including an assist on the GWG

The Big Hit

Six foot six inch Martin Hanzal caught Matt Stajan with his head down just inside the Coyotes blueline in the first period. The open-ice jolt sent the Flames center to the ice like a sack of potatoes.

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The Big Save

At the end of the second period with the Flames ahead by one, the Coyotes Lee Stempniak walked out of the corner with the puck, made a great deke…and was stopped by a Kipper’s right pad. The save preserved the lead heading into the third.

What it Means

We have a real race on our hands folks. The Avalanche seemed to have lost whatever weird mojo had been sustaining their success up to this point and are in a full-on tailspin. The Flames aren’t exactly playing inspiring hockey themselves, but the post-season has at least gone from a prayer to a lottery ticket.

What’s Next

The Flames face Colorado in Colorado Friday night. You couldn’t script this any better.