Preds prey on tired Flames

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

The present arrived a couple of days late but was gift-wrapped how you'd like.

Needing a boost from having to play a second-straight night immediately following Christmas, the Calgary Flames received their wish to Santa with a two-goal first-period lead in last night's game against the Nashville Predators.

And then came the prank, uglier than a Chia Pet at an office exchange.

Instead of continuing the momentum gained from a pair of victories over the Vancouver Canucks which sandwiched the two-day break, the Flames blew their early edge, handed out a few party favours of their own and proceeded to drop a 4-3 tilt.

"I think we ran out of gas. It was like a road game for us," said Flames GM/head coach Darryl Sutter.

It's a valid point, seeing as the Preds were in the Stampede City Monday night while the Flames were skating in Vancouver before flying home in the early hours.

However, the loss came in a fashion becoming all to familiar when the Flames end up on the wrong side of the ledger.

It's their third straight regulation-time defeat (yes, only three in the last 11 games but still their third straight) in matches when they already led by two goals.

Sutter didn't make an issue of the trend.

"You're in the new NHL. I think our guys played hard," he snapped upon being asked if that was a concern.

In the dressing room, though, that sense of deja vu was hardly something Shean Donovan enjoyed.

"It's happened too often. It's a terrible feeling," said the right winger. "We're a good team and will rectify it but it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth right now."

The early going sure had the makings of something enjoyable to savour for the Flames, who fall to 21-12-4.

First-period powerplay goals by Marcus Nilson -- who was playing in the first-unit position usually held by Jarome Iginla -- and Dion Phaneuf had the Saddledome sellout crowd of 19,289 in a festive mood and ready to celebrate a third-straight victory.

That spirit was tempered when Adam Hall and Vernon Fiddler tied the clash with powerplay goals of their own in the second period to draw the Predators even.

Still, Kristian Huselius had glasses poised for a toast by restoring Calgary's lead late in the second period.

However, the party crashed for good after the intermission.

Former Calgary Hitmen fan favourite Jerred Smithson again tied the clash midway through the third period, and Scottie Upshall notched the game winner in a one-sided final frame that ended up the difference.

Donovan refused to say the subpar third period was due to playing on back-to-back nights.

"You'd like to pin it on that but there's no excuses," he said.

"They've had a lot of games this year and only have seven loses. I'm sure they've played three in five nights.

"We were just playing a good team, one of the best teams in the league, and people have to give them some respect.

"You have to play 60 minutes against them and in the third period we didn't play good enough in the third period to get a win."

The team didn't give goaltender Philippe Sauve a decent home debut.

The Calgary back-up netminder, who had won in his last three games, received the nod at the 'Dome for the first time but a 36-save performance wasn't enough for a win, much to his teammates' dismay.

"It's too bad for him," Donovan said.

"He's played so good for us and then we go and play a game like that in front of him. It's kinda brutal."

Tomas Vokoun stopped 23 shots in a Nashville win that improves his team's record to 24-7-3.

Calgary continues its five-game homestand tomorrow night when the Minnesota Wild come calling (8 p.m.).


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