SUN Hockey Pool

Flames now in a threefall

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

NEWARK -- It was only a small step forward on a night the Calgary Flames needed a giant leap.

The Flames improved on their previous two outings, but on a night they needed an elite-team effort, it wasn't enough as they fell 3-2 last night to the New Jersey Devils.

The Flames have now dropped three straight.

Better than the performances in Atlanta and Carolina? You bet.

But to borrow words from GM Darryl Sutter a few years ago, "OK is not OK" when the season is coming down to the crunch.

"This time of year, you want to feel good. You want to feel you're playing better and better night after night, and it's been a couple of tough games," said goalie Miikka Kiprusoff. "We have to learn from this and be stronger next game."

With the Detroit Red Wings up next tomorrow night, the task becomes no easier.

Considering the Flames are now sliding down a slippery slope, the situation is becoming that much more dire.

"We've got to turn it around and we've got to turn it around quick," defenceman Dion Phaneuf said. "The way the schedule is, you're playing every second night so there's not much time to dwell on it, but we know we have to get better and we'd better do it fast."

For the first 25 minutes, the Flames were better.

Olli Jokinen's first-period goal -- his third in four outings since being acquired at the trade deadline -- had them in control against the Atlantic Division-leading Devils.

Then came that season-long bugaboo which cost them the momentum before the announced gathering of 14,598 at the Prudential Center.

Jamie Langenbrunner netted the 14th shorthanded goal surrendered by Calgary this season to square the game.

"We had a pretty solid road game going for us," assessed head coach Mike Keenan. "The momentum changed for us on the special teams. We had very good control to that point."

Brian Rolson's powerplay tally made it a 2-1 Devils lead before the second period ended and the hosts never looked back.

"We did a lot of things better, and we can look at that, but that being said, to win games, it takes that bit more," said defenceman Robyn Regehr. "For us, that means better on the penalty kill -- which we have to be because it's been weak for us lately -- or better on the powerplay or in front of the net, like in the third period.

"We can't allow teams to score like that."

Zach Parise netted the winner early in the third period by shoving home a loose puck amidst a wild scramble. In a crazy sequence, the puck twice was under the sprawled Kiprusoff but came loose.

Kiprusoff was given the hook in favour of Curtis McElhinney -- "Trying to get the team boosted a bit. It had nothing to do with him," Keenan said -- and the Flames believed the play could have been blown dead.

"It's tough for the refs," Kiprusoff. "But ... at one point it was under my back and they were able to dig it out and score."

Curtis Glencross made it a one-goal game by scoring with 0.9 seconds remaining.

For Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, the win puts him two shy of tying the NHL mark of 551 set by Patrick Roy.

Calgary falls to 39-22-6 and remains eight-points ahead of Vancouver for the Northwest Division crown, although the Canucks have two games in hand.

Right now, the thought process is to stop the bleeding more than worrying about the Canucks, although Regehr insisted he and his teammates need to keep their heads up.

"We can't get too down," he said. "We're all disappointed with the way the last three games have gone here, and the result, and in some cases the effort, that has been had in those games. But the guys in here have to change this, turn it around.

"We have to work together and battle through it."

The Devils improve to 43-20-3.


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