SUN Hockey Pool

Three cheers and an ovation

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

The booing started midway through the first as the visitors played an extended version of keep-away in the Flames zone.

Not playful Halloween booing, either.

Angry, frustrated booing that peppered yet another period of penalty problems and a 3-0 deficit.

By the end of the period, the smattering of malcontents evolved into a lynch mob launching an all-out verbal assault on the team this city lives for.

Richly deserved too, especially given the pathetic 4-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks that was still fresh in the minds of Saddledome faithful.

The players were booed off the ice, setting the scene for a mutiny of sorts.

That is until a series of fortuitous bounces, favourable calls and renewed energy -- oh, and finally a penalty killing unit -- saw the Flames tie the game 3-3 and depart for the second intermission with -- wait for it -- a standing ovation.

Again, richly deserved.

Two goals off deflections in the third against the NHL's best defensive team and the world's hottest goaltender damn near popped the ripple out of the roof.

Everyone was on their feet to salute the 5-3 comeback win.

Parade plans are sure to follow.

If there's one thing these Flames have demonstrated this year, it's resiliency.

If there's one thing they've proven, it's that no lead is safe against them.

Even against the league's top team.

Of the many heroes on a night that may very well prove to be a pivotal point in Mike Keenan's first season here, Alex Tanguay was the most noticeable.

Shunned early in the game for missing an open net tap-in that dribbled feebly wide, the most maligned member of the team's vaunted offence finally scored his first goal of the season.

The fact it was a goalmouth gift will be overshadowed by the fact his second of the evening was a deft deflection that wound up past Minnesota Wild stud Niklas Backstrom, serving as the game-winner.

No doubt the same fans who gave it to the hometown boys early in the evening left the building raving about defenceman Dion Phaneuf, too.

Not only did the d-man's bold offensive foray late in the second close the gap to one, but it was one of his big hits on the night that prompted Stephane Veilleux to step forward for what turned into a fistic beat-down the Wild winger richly deserved.

At the very least, Dion's punch-up gave rise to the first positive reaction from the crowd since the national anthem.

Only the players know if laziness is the chief cause of their penalty problems, but given the renewed vigour in which the penalty killers played with after the first period, it might not end up being that big an issue after all.

What has been a bigger problem is their slow starts.

Night after night, the Flames seem to test the fans' patience -- and likely that of their coach -- with first-period face-plants.

Somehow that didn't matter last night.

As for the fickle fans, it's unlikely the players will hold a grudge.

And if the Flames continue ensuring the opposition can't hold leads, all will be forgiven.

It's a fragile bunch, these Flames fans.

But with the firepower they saw last night, maybe -- just maybe -- they won't jump ship quite so soon next time.


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