SUN Hockey Pool

Flames trio terrific

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

CHICAGO -- Every key situation, head coach Jim Playfair would send his trusty trio onto the ice.

In return, linemates Stephane Yelle, Marcus Nilson and Jeff Friesen delivered in all aspects for the Calgary Flames.

The post-season race is coming down to the short strokes and the Flames' made-for-the-playoffs line provided all that could be asked of them and more in yesterday's 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.

Set the tone on the first shift? Check.

Stem the tide after the opposition scored? Check.

Kill penalties? Win faceoffs? Score the comeback-igniting goal? Check, check and -- you betcha -- check.

"They had a huge start to the game. They had a huge start to the third period and, obviously, getting the goal by them set the work ethic for our team," said Playfair as he tipped his hat to the gritty vets.

While the other elements should come as no surprise, the trio played their biggest role in the opening minute of the third period of the important contest before the announced crowd of 10,178 at the United Center.

Down a goal to begin the period, they buzzed around the 'Hawks zone until Yelle deflected Dion Phaneuf's point shot past Chicago goalie Nikolai Khabibulin to pull the visitors even a mere 48 ticks into the frame.

Sure, Roman Hamrlik scored the winner but how critical it was for Yelle and his line -- known more for being strong defensively -- to give the Flames that opportunity.

"The best defence is when you're 200 feet from your net," Yelle said. "We worked hard down low along the boards and spent a lot of time in their end. We were trying to work it more to the net, get more shots, and knew if we stuck with it we'd get more chances. That was one of them."

A big one. The Flames (40-25-10) now have won three straight and solidified their hold on eighth place in the Western Conference and the final playoff spot that comes with it.

"I think we've missed just that for a lot of the year, especially on the road, a line that gets it in and controls it in their end," said defenceman Rhett Warrener. "It's not a lot of fancy stuff, just mucking it up, grinding it out in their zone. That goes a long way, especially in tiring out their D. Not a lot of flash there but they take a lot of pride in what they do. That line has realized how they can be successful."

As critical as it was to get the win, it was more about not losing to a struggling 'Hawks team that has been in next-year country for weeks.

"A very important win for us," said Jarome Iginla. "To be able to come back in the third period was very nice. We had some really good chances and Khabibulin was making some really good saves."

The 'Bulin Wall couldn't do enough for the Blackhawks (27-39-9) to stop a losing skid that's reached five games.

The final straw was Hamr-lik's rocket from the point with a little more than six minutes remaining in regulation.

On the faceoff immediately after Khabibulin was drilled flush in the mask and likely dazed by a Phaneuf point shot, Wayne Primeau won the draw and Matthew Lombardi chipped the puck back to Hamrlik. His offering beat Khabibulin on the short side.

"Dion said he (messed) him up a little bit," Hamrlik said with a laugh. "Who knows? That was a pretty hard shot."

That the Flames would enjoy the last laugh was in doubt because of yet another sluggish road performance.

They've won only 10 games away from the Saddledome -- compared to a league-best 30 at home -- because of inconsistent performances.

Yesterday's affair didn't have a slow start with Kristian Huselius opening the scoring 121 seconds into the game but Radim Vrbata and Denis Arkhipov scored to put the Blackhawks ahead before the first period was complete.

Even after Calgary had regained the lead, there were plenty of frantic seconds.

Guess what line came through in the end, though, with Nilson capping the final shift by sticking out his left foot to block a Brent Seabrook point shot?

"I don't know who shot it," Nilson said. "I just knew I had to get in front of it. It's not bad at all, it hit the back of the heel. I hardly felt it at all. I've had a few that's been worse the last few games."


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