SUN Hockey Pool

Tanguay's time to shine

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

The torch, for the time being, has been passed.

Now we see whether the hands can handle the heat.

Around the NHL, an adage resonates that the best players must be your best players.

For the Calgary Flames, the responsibility has been shifted from the injured Jarome Iginla to the likes of left winger Alex Tanguay and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff.

They are the next two biggest stars on the squad that will be facing the league without Iginla likely until at least after the all-star break.

Which means, the Flames -- minus the face of the franchise -- are their team until his return, with the next test tonight against Minnesota.

And they know it.

"I'm certainly one of the guys who's got to step it up and play better," said Tanguay, coming off a three-point game in Calgary's 4-2 win over Dallas on Saturday. "I'm looking forward to the challenge. It's a good opportunity for me, getting more responsibility and getting counted on a bit more. Hopefully I can help the team.

"I'm gonna try to play better. Not one guy, specifically, is going to replace Jarome, especially with the way Jarome has been playing since the start of the year but if we all raise our level one notch, we should be fine."

By no means is Tanguay alone on an island. The Flames need everybody, from those having career seasons such as Daymond Langknow, Matthew Lombardi and Kristian Huselius needing to continue that trend or those well off expectations -- Jeff Friesen and Jamie Lundmark, for example-- needing to hit the scoresheet, it's a group job.

Still, the stars must shine brightest. At least for Tanguay, back to nearly a point-per-game pace, it's not virgin territory. He went through a very similar situation while in Colorado, including a spell when both Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg were out of action.

"I was kind of the main guy, so it's not something new. It's something I like, the pressure to play well and perform," he said. "But it's a team game and one guy won't make all the team successful. Hopefully, we can all contribute a bit more.

"I'm just gonna try to play my game but maybe play with a little more intensity and give a little more leadership. We're in no position where any of us can take games off and afford to not play 100 percent without our best player in the lineup."

At least the win over Dallas was a good step. By no means was it a masterpiece, the Flames were outshot by a 9-0 margin to start and were clinging to stay in it in the third period before Dustin Boyd's late game winner, but some of the marquee names came through.

Case in point was Kiprusoff's 31-save performance.

He called it 'OK' but head coach Jim Playfair said it was a case of a star stepping up when he needed to most.

"The game that Jamie (McLennan) played against Florida allowed us to ... give Miikka three really good practice days to come back in and get the details back in his game," Playfair said. "You look at it the third period, we did not play consistent, strong, shift-to-shift hockey and I think Miikka gave us a chance to stay in that game long enough to find a way to win. We talked to Miikka and said, 'We're gonna bend some times, you just make sure we don't break' and I think it's the responsibility he took."

Kiprusoff sees the matter as something that goes beyond himself, and may be a blessing in the long run.

"I think it's a good challenge for our team, to win without Jarome," he explained.

"If we're able to do that, it's good confidence for all the players, and when Jarome comes back we're gonna be even better."

Though only on the verge of reaching the season's midway point, the Flames are in the midst of an important stretch. Seven games are on the slate between now and the all-star break and the next three all against Northwest Division foes.

"We win them, we're in first ... and we lose them, we're in last," Tanguay said.

"Other than (against) Vancouver the last while, we haven't lost too many games at home and hopefully that trend will continue."


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