SUN Hockey Pool

Xcel-lent victory takes first

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A week ago, after a loss to the Ducks in Anaheim, the playoffs weren't even a foregone conclusion for the Calgary Flames.

This morning, they wake up knowing they are at the top the Northwest Division. At least for now.

Winning a first-place battle 2-1 over the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center yesterday afternoon on the strength of their special-teams play and another amazing effort from goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, the Flames have every reason to be excited.

"We've been working hard here the past few games. We've had a good effort from everybody and that's obviously why we've been winning," said Daymond Langkow, who opened the scoring in the first period with a powerplay goal.

"We've got to keep it going.

"Hopefully, we've figured it out. We can't win one, lose one -- we've got to be more consistent."

The victory was the Flames fourth straight, and the last three have been against division leaders. But the afternoon matchup against the Wild was their biggest test, knowing how much was at stake.

"They were waiting and they were ready. I could feel it in the whole building," Conroy said of the 18,568 on hand to witness the contest.

Kiprusoff was strong in the first period, allowing the Flames to withstand the Wild's early attack. He had to be even better in the late stages of the middle frame and all through the third as the Wild pressed for the tying goal.

The Wild thought they had made it 1-1 at the midway point when Pierre-Marc Bouchard's shot pinballed through traffic into the net, but referee Brad Meier waved it off because Aaron Voros pushed Kiprusoff into the cage as the puck crossed the line.

"He was diving into the crease, so it's pretty tough to make a save," said Kiprusoff when asked about the call.

Minutes later, Conroy capped off a two-on-one rush with Owen Nolan by snapping a wrist shot past Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom and into the top of the net.

"You know, for me, it's been a tough year as far as goals come," a laughing Conroy said about his ninth goal of the season. "But you know, to help and chip in and get the winner, and going for first place in the division, it was a huge game for us."

Thanks to a rash of penalties in the final minutes of the middle frame, the Wild shelled Kiprusoff. It seemed just a matter of time before the hosts would get on the board. It was 38 seconds into the third period.

Mark Parrish tucked his own rebound past Kiprusoff on the Wild's sixth powerplay of the afternoon.

"We were trying to give them the momentum back by taking all those penalties," said Conroy.

The Flames nearly regained their two-goal lead on their own powerplay in a frantic third period, but Langkow couldn't connect on Iginla's pass to duplicate his opening goal -- which was set up in the exact same way, with the Flames captain firing the puck hard into the crease where Langkow was parked.

Iginla is still two goals shy of Theoren Fleury's franchise mark, but he's a pretty good passer, too.

"It was good. I've got to handle that one," Langkow said of the later miss. "That had some heat on it, but it was right there."

There was no doubt on the first-period connection, which put Langkow at the 25-goal mark for the third straight year and for the fourth time of his career.

"That was right on my tape," he said of Iginla's pass. "It's a good play, catch them off guard there."

Although the shot clock read 39 for the Wild, Kiprusoff faced a lot of shots from the outside because of the way the Flames defended.

All part of the plan, said head coach Mike Keenan.

"We played a very conservative style of game, in this case to take as much of the neutral zone away as we could," said Keenan, who also saw his 'tender make some incredible saves from close range.

"They had some top shots in close, and he was just excellent."


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