SUN Hockey Pool

Renewed hope for Calgary

ERIC FRANCIS

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

EDMONTON -- The four shirtless dudes who painted letters on their chests that spelled H-O-P-E refused to cover up when it was announced the Nashville Predators won in overtime.

However, when the final buzzer sounded on a 3-2 Calgary Flames win, they likely headed to the bar to meet their pals adorned with the L-E-S-S.

Strangest thing is, that's how the Flames looked most of the evening -- hopeless.

Yet, strangely, it's their playoff hopes that endured.

Outshot 30-17, outchanced and outplayed by a team that looked poised to make far more noise in the playoffs than the Flames could at the moment, the Calgary club managed to exhale for a night. Maybe they even got some sleep while en route to Minnesota for their next test.

That said, the only thing the Flames clinched was ... well ... let's just say it's still a tense bunch.

The Predators' comeback, overtime win made sure of that an hour earlier.

At the very least, the Flames finally crossed one team off their list of threats, putting an end to the Oilers' impressive playoff push with a late, fortuitous win at Rexall Place.

"The overwhelming emotion is it feels good," said a relieved Jarome Iginla. "It's a step closer to the playoffs. One less team in the hunt."

Symbolic of just how unjust the result was for a swarming Oilers squad, the dagger into the Oilers heart was a hope shot from the sideboard hash marks thrown on net by Alex Tanguay with 2.1 seconds left in the second to break a 1-1 tie.

Tied 2-2 in the third, the winner came from Owen Nolan, when he smacked a rebound into an open net. The fiery forward immediately let out the type of roar that emphasized how relieved his struggling club is these days. The goal came on one of the team's only offensive forays.

After harping on his team the last two days to tighten up defensively and protect leads better, Mike Keenan watched his beleaguered bunch spend the whole third period on their heels, while Miikka Kiprusoff manned the fort.

It appeared the Flames would choke again after Curtis Glencross scored his second of the night, throwing a raucous crowd into a frenzy Flames fans would envy.

If not for Kiprusoff's heroics to follow, the Flames would likely have entered tomorrow's tilt in Minnesota underdogs to make the playoffs. Instead, they still control their own fate with two games left.

Turning aside 16 shots in the third period alone, it was the Kiprusoff of old that made the win possible.

Not that anyone in Calgary, including Jarome Iginla, is preoccupied with his chase for his 50th goal, but the Flames captain missed three golden opportunities to reach the mark, only adding to the club's anxiousness as it faced a late barrage.

"Any time you're facing a team on the brink of elimination you know they're going to press hard - you know you're going to spend some time in your zone," said Keenan.

"We were able to find a way to win and that's all that was important to us. We had more of a defensive consciousness among the group and that was all we could instill, or emphasize, or ask for."

As the Flames fought off wave after wave of Oiler rushes, a fan shown on the Jumbotron held a sign that said "the C still stands for choke." The crowd went wild.

Seconds later, Nolan ended the party -- the noose removed.

The Flames escaped with the win. There's still hope for this crew yet.


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