It took every ounce of energy they had -- and a clutch performance by goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff -- but the Calgary Flames started 2006 with a win.
The Chicago Blackhawks rolled into town well rested and eager to snap a six-game losing streak.
They fired 37 shots at Kiprusoff in an admirable attempt yesterday afternoon but lost 3-2 to the Flames at the Saddledome.
Kiprusoff was especially strong during the second period as the Blackhawks pressed for a go-ahead goal on the powerplay with the score 2-2. Planting his left leg on the ice as Kyle Calder jammed away from the side of the crease, the goaltender kept the Flames from falling behind.
Matthew Lombardi rewarded Kiprusoff's effort with the winning goal 7:04 into the third period when he took a one-handed pass from Darren McCarty -- who had defenceman Jassen Cullimore draped all over him behind the net -- and walked in alone on 'Hawks goalie Craig Anderson.
Lombardi faked to the backhand and then eased around the falling 'keeper, depositing the puck into an empty cage for the winning goal.
"(Anderson) came out, challenged pretty hard. He probably thought I was going to wire it right there," Lombardi said of the play. "Just figured if I could get around him, I could get the net open."
Flames captain Jarome Iginla, who scored his 16th of the season to tie the game at 1-1 late in the first period, said Kiprusoff was outstanding but he's come to expect that in tight games.
"He came up big. He's come up big all year," Iginla said of his goaltender. "We have so much confidence in him in the close games, that he's going to make the saves he needs to and he always does. He always does it the same way. He looks very calm in there. It's awesome to have him in net."
Iginla played a solid game, too, checking hard and carrying the puck confidently toward the net. The Flames captain knew it would take the extra effort in his team's fifth game in seven-and-a-half days since Christmas.
"We've played a lot of games lately and it was a good win. It was a tough win," said Iginla, sporting the golden hard hat given to the unsung hero after every Flames victory.
"They had some rest so we knew they'd be fired up. It was back and forth and fortunately Lombardi was able to get a really nice goal."
Flames GM/head coach Darryl Sutter praised his players for sticking with it to the end despite fatigue and injuries to Marcus Nilson and Byron Ritchie that left them shorthanded on the bench.
"We had the resiliency to try and hang in there with the depleted lineup and win the hockey game," said Sutter. "I'm proud of them."
Calgary's next game is Friday against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m., Sportsnet).