Hats off to Iggy!

STEVE MACFARLANE

, Last Updated: 7:21 AM ET

No fewer than 50 hats flew to the ice--at least one for every goal the fans figure Jarome Iginla will have scored this season.

The littering was followed by a chant of "MVP" for the Flames captain, whose natural hat-trick helped Calgary creep to within a point of the Northwest Division lead as they beat the current holder of that coveted spot, the Minnesota Wild, 5-4 at the Saddledome last night.

With 48 goals on the season and another seven games to play, chances are good Iginla will crack the 50-goal mark for the second time in his career.

Even if it doesn't end up as a first-round playoff preview, it sure felt like one.

From the overwhelming amount of red on display in the stands, to the trio of fights, and Iginla's heroics, spring was definitely in the air.

"Right from the start it was physical, and emotional," said Iginla, who hoped the strategy of wearing the Wild down would work out in the Flames' favour with the visitors coming off a game in Vancouver the night before.

"I thought as the game went on, it paid off."

As for his hat-trick on home ice.

"It feels good. I haven't had many at home. It was cool, to be in a game like that -- an emotional game -- and the fans were right in (it). To see the hats going, it's definitely always a good feeling.

"But the biggest thing was just that win."

And the biggest goal, says Iginla, wasn't even his.

In one end-to-end dash, Dion Phaneuf swung a Wild powerplay into 1-0 Flames lead as he raced past Marian Gaborik and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, then fended off defenceman Brent Burns before flipping the puck past Josh Harding with one hand on his stick.

"Oh man, I think that's our goal of the year," said Iginla. "That was extremely impressive. For him to create a breakaway for himself and do it one-handed, that was huge. That was the biggest goal of the game right there.

"You sit on the bench and you see that, you don't get to see goals like that very often. That was fun to watch."

Craig Conroy was out there with Phaneuf killing the penalty, and looked ready to receive a pass in the neutral zone before the big solo play.

"I thought he was gonna give it to me, but he looked me off, so I thought he was gonna dump it," said Conroy. "I turned around and there he goes. What a goal, a highlight-reel goal.

"He probably was smart not giving it to me."

His teammates were all heading to the bench for fresh legs as Phaneuf celebrated, alone, under the spotlight in the corner.

On his backside, arms pumping in front of him, the defenceman's yell was drowned out only by the elated cheers of the hometown crowd. He said he was too tired to wonder where his teammates were hiding.

"Nah," he said. "I was just trying to catch my breath."

Cancelling out the highlight-reel goal was one for the blooper vault, as Benoit Pouliot netted his first NHL tally when his centering pass went off Cory Sarich's skate and through Miikka Kiprusoff's five-hole.

The Wild then grabbed the lead on Pouliot's second, this one a more dynamic offering as he drilled a one-timer off the post and in. But with less than a minute to go in the third, Iginla got his first to help regain the momentum heading into the last 20 minutes.

"Huge goal for our team," said Phaneuf. "Last minute, down 2-1, to tie it going into the third. It's a big goal at a big time of the game."

Another big goal came just 50 seconds into the third period as Iginla snapped a quick shot past Harding for the lead. His hat-tossing marker came less than six minutes later.


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