Kipper shines in win

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

Game 1 last season was the difference between the Calgary Flames winning the Northwest Division title.

That opening-night 6-0 thrashing at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks added up to the two-point deficit.

Looks like the Flames learned the folly of their ways, albeit by the slimmest of margins and thanks in big part to some incredible goaltending by Miikka Kiprusoff in a one-sided third period.

The Flames drew first blood against the team expected to be their main competition for the division with last night's 5-3 victory over the Canucks.

"It's unbelievable how when it comes down to the end of the year, it's two points that makes the difference," said Flames winger Eric Nystrom. "It's always good to get points against teams in your division and we're happy with that."

The end result is something to enjoy for a Flames team that had lost their last six season openers and won only one lid-lifter since 1993.

But the manner was a dicey proposition.

After staking themselves to a three-goal lead in the first period and a 4-2 edge after the middle frame, the Flames held on for dear life.

Kiprusoff made 20 of his 39 saves in the final period to win a showdown between himself and Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo.

"Those two guys are probably two of the best out there," Flames defenceman Jay Bouw- meester said. "We can't be giving up that many shots every night.

"But when you have a guy back there like that, who can make those saves, it helps you on nights like this."

It shouldn't have been such a nail biter.

Not after Mark Giordano and Rene Bourque scored first-period powerplay goals and another by Adam Pardy made it 3-0 to the delight of the sold-out Saddledome crowd of 19,289, who couldn't help but feel a sense of deja vu since the hosts were wearing retro uniforms akin to the jerseys worn when Calgary won the 1989 Stanley Cup.

Even when Brandon Prust scored to make it a 4-1 count at the midway point, the Flames should have been able to coast to the finish.

Then again, that coasting caused their troubles.

Powerplay goals by Kevin Bieksa and Mikael Samuelsson and an Alex Burrows tally 41 seconds into the third period set up a wild finish.

"It's just being passive," Nystrom said. "You think you have the lead, so you have to sit back, and we got passive. We've got to be aggressive, play in their end. That's what we did the first period and parts of the second, and they didn't have a chance.

"Once we started sitting back and letting them control the game, they have great players and know how to make plays."

So, it wasn't following the gameplan set out by new head coach Brent Sutter?

"That's a mindset, sitting on your heels," Nystrom said. "The coaches can say, 'Do the system,' or, 'Get aggressive,' but we've got to start doing it. We were making drop passes and trying to make cross-ice plays. When we were going well, we were just going forward. That's the system, advance the puck in their end and do what you want.

"Game 1. A lot of work to do."

Dion Phaneuf iced the win with an empty netter.

Bourque and Giordano each finished with two points.

Next up is the Battle of Alberta tomorrow in Edmonton against the Oilers.

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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