ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Maybe it was the weight of those Stanley Cup expectations.
Or possibly the rust collected from a lockout-lost season.
Whatever the reason, the Calgary Flames began defence of their Western Conference crown in the worst possible manner -- turning in an inexplicably lacklustre effort en route to a 6-3 defeat to the Minnesota Wild.
Afterwards, Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff didn't mince words.
"We were awful as a whole team," he said. "There's no excuses. We have to get ready when the game starts. My game wasn't my best. I allowed some big rebounds."
Even though some experts are ready to hand the Flames a quick ticket back to the Stanley Cup final, the players stumbled and bumbled through the first period and had an up-close view of a Wild squad happily willing to skate away the energy pent up during the work stoppage.
Flames captain Jarome Iginla wasn't surprised by the Wild's fast start.
"They're always a good skating club and we didn't skate at all with them," Iginla said.
"You've got to compete harder than we did ... Minnesota was good in the first, right from the drop of the puck, and we weren't very good. They took it to us, had the chances and had the momentum.
"They deserved to win the game."
With the record home gathering of 19,398 fans at the Xcel Energy Center still abuzz, Marc Chouinard gave the crowd another reason to erupt at the 1:43 mark.
Kiprusoff steered a long point shot to the corner but found himself out of position on Alexandre Daigle's centring pass.
With a wide-open net and his stick free, Chouinard easily tallied his first goal of the season.
It was just the beginning of a one-sided opening frame in which the hosts held a 16-3 edge in shots. And that last Wild shot was a backbreaker.
With Calgary down 1-0 and
1.5 seconds left in the first frame, Brent Burns fired a bullet of a slapper that made it past the screen and under Kiprusoff's outstretched arm.
Said Flames coach Darryl Sutter: "They're a team that, historically, you give them two goals and they shut you down."
Calgary started the second period with more spunk but local product Kyle Wanvig made it 3-0 with another powerplay tally.
As he cruised the slot, Wanvig collected a pass from Pierre-Marc Bouchard and wristed an offering just inside the far post.
Daymond Langkow, playing in his first game as a Flame, broke the goose egg. Set up deep in Minny territory, he centred the puck that ricocheted off Burns' skate and behind a startled Roloson.
But Chouinard's goal six minutes into the final period restored a three-goal edge which proved insurmountable, although it was in no way a sure thing after Stephane Yelle and Jarome Iginla scored a couple of minutes apart.
Calgary's comeback hopes were dashed when Todd White tallied with only three minutes remaining. Chouinard secured the hat-trick by scoring into an empty net.
The Flames will try to reach the win column tomorrow in Columbus against the retooled Blue Jackets.