For once this season, the Calgary Flames penalty kill was the difference.
Well, for once in a good way.
It's been the bone of contention all year for the club and a major cause of its middling record. When down a man, the Flames have been nothing short of dreadful.
Last night's penalty-killing performance, perfect in squashing five chances, was paramount to their 4-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche at the Saddledome and earned a welcomed respite from the hail of criticism.
"You're gonna give us a break for one game? Well, we'll take it," said defenceman Rhett Warrener. "It was only one game, but I thought it was a really good effort by the guys out there. They really crashed back into the slot area and took away any good opportunities. If we were gonna give up shots, they were gonna be from the outside. The forwards did a heck of a job blocking shots as well -- a lot of key blocks when they did get a chance to shoot it.
"I think all in all, the best thing about the kill was the effort. The guys really concentrated and you can see when we do that how good we can be."
Granted, nobody is going to confuse the Colorado Avalanche powerplay with any of the great squads in hockey history. The Avs have the NHL's worst road powerplay with a meagre 7.5% success rate. (For the record, they fell below Calgary's, which sits at an equally unimpressive 7.7%.)
But there was something special about the job the Flames did. After all, we're talking about an Avalanche team boasting a pair of stars who have historically dismantled Calgary on the powerplay in Joe Sakic and Ryan Smyth.
Instead, the Avs managed only three shots on goal in a full 10 minutes of man-advantage action.
"We have been working on our penalty-killing for quite some time, but we wanted to certainly use up ice pressure when it was there and then we pressured on the half boards and on the wall a little bit more aggressively than we have been," assessed Flames head coach Mike Keenan. "And we had people blocking shots. They went down to sacrifice themselves to take the shots when their point had access and when we had to get in the lane to block it. Because of the extension of the offensive zone now, it is harder to get out there to make that play with the stick, so sometimes you end up taking a shot by blocking it."
The change didn't just end with the special teams for the Flames, who upped their record to 9-9-3.
Despite a limited number of offensive chances and shots on goal, they were the opportunistic club.
Avalanche netminder Jose Theodore -- who'd recorded three of his four victories this season against Calgary -- faced only 14 shots but surrendered three goals.
Leading the way for Calgary was Owen Nolan, who scored twice -- once into an empty net -- to give him four goals in the last six games, after being blanked the first 15 contests.
"The opportunities were always there, I just wasn't bearing down enough or get the bounce I needed," said Nolan, who erased a one-goal Colorado lead eight seconds after the Avs opened the scoring.
Jarome Iginla, the recipient of a brilliant play by Matthew Lombardi, and David Moss also scored for Calgary.
Marek Svatos replied for Colorado (11-8-1).