SUN Hockey Pool

Slip, slidin' away

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 1:20 PM ET

ST. PAUL -- The elements were all there to muster an inspirational win.

Under-manned due to a stream of injuries on the blueline and salary-cap constraints, the Calgary Flames had the opportunity to overcome huge odds against the Minnesota Wild.

The heartwarming story didn't happen.

Playing two skaters shy of the allowable limit and in action for the second time in as many nights, the Flames fell behind early and dropped a 4-0 decision last night.

"We definitely have key guys out, there's no question, but it's part of it and we have to respond," captain Jarome Iginla said. "I thought Matt (Pelech) and Johnny (Negrin) came in and played really well, they looked great, and that's exciting to know they're in the system and coming.

"As forwards, they didn't play a lot more guys than three lines, too, for a lot of the game. It's an opportunity for us in there to roll, go and go and go. It was the first period. It cost us tonight."

Calgary (44-28-6) hasn't won consecutive games in a month and relinquished the Northwest Division lead to idle Vancouver.

Calgary and the Canucks are tied with 94 points, but Vancouver has a game in hand.

In fact, the Flames fell to fifth in the West, one point back of the Chicago Blackhawks, who clinched a playoff spot with last night's 3-1 win over Nashville.

Having lost Robyn Regehr and Adrian Aucoin in Thursday night's playoff-berth clinching win in Dallas, the Flames are now without four of their top-six defencemen. Mark Giordano and Cory Sarich are also on the shelf.

That forced them to dress Pelech and Negrin for their NHL debuts. To add more adversity, the team had to send forwards Dustin Boyd and Warren Peters to the minors to stay within the NHL's salary cap.

The Wild (37-32-9) didn't take advantage of the rookies but did come out flying to beat the Flames for the first time this season, in their sixth and final meeting of the year.

Andrew Brunette and Cal Clutterbuck scored 29 seconds apart around the five-minute mark -- which prompted coach Mike Keenan to pull goalie Miikka Kiprusoff for 12 seconds before sending him back between the pipes in the hopes of regrouping his team.

It didn't help, as Owen Nolan's tally made it 3-0 before the first period ended.

"We had lots of energy," Keenan said. "We took a little bit of time to get that part of our game sorted out. I think we were a little bit too cautious to start the game because I think we were trying to play it a little too conservatively, maybe thinking in the back of our minds we didn't need to be as assertive and to preserve some energy.

"On the other hand, as I pointed this out to them, they didn't use many more than nine forwards to start the first period with and didn't really play their additional players until they had a significant lead. It wasn't a matter of them having more depth.

"Once I pointed it out to them, I think our team played better."

Calgary tried to make a game of it, but couldn't solve Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom. Even with five powerplay chances.

Calgary has now gone six games without a man-advantage marker and is on a zero-for-25 skid.

Marian Gaborik rounded the scoring for Minnesota (37-32-9), which won for only the fifth time in 13 games to keep its playoff hopes alive. Minnesota is two points out of a playoff spot with four games remaining.

Backstrom finished the night with 25 saves for his eighth shutout of the season.

Kiprusoff stopped 24 shots.

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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