SUN Hockey Pool

Flames find triple threat

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:19 AM ET

The Calgary Flames returned home from Detroit Wednesday morning with two things they haven’t had in awhile: A playoff spot and what appears to be a first line.

It’s not a coincidence.

Having gone years without having a bona fide top trio capable of breaking open games, there are signs the team may just be on to something here. Something big.

Perhaps just in the nick of time.

Having paired Matt Stajan with Jarome Iginla since the former Maple Leaf arrived last month, Brent Sutter’s incessant tinkering landed Rene Bourque on the line’s port side three games ago.

The club hasn’t lost since.

While Calgary’s decidedly more assertive play has seen the team spread out scoring well during this three-game winning streak, the big line has scored half of the 14 goals dating back to the first win against New Jersey Friday.

“Nothing fancy — we’re making tic-tac-toe plays, but it seems like at keys times of the games, we’ve been scoring big goals and carrying the team lately,” said Bourque, who scored the winner in Detroit Tuesday as part of his two-goal, seven-point spurt the last three outings.

“A lot of guys who play with Iggy just try to pass him the puck. I do try to look for him when I can, but it’s not the first option on my mind. If I have the chance to shoot, I’ll shoot or pass to someone else.”

That may be the biggest difference between Bourque and pretty much every other winger on a team that has seen more combinations than Manchu Wok.

Easily the second-best forward on the roster, Bourque has the size, speed and confidence to play his own game. The difference is he now gets to do it with the Flames’ top sniper by his side.

“(Bourque) is a great guy to play with — he’s big, fast and has great vision, too,” said Iginla, whose four-goal/three- assist binge over the last three games helped get him to the 30-goal plateau Sunday for the ninth-straight season.

“He just seems to keep getting better.”

Yes, it’s early in the line’s life and perhaps it’s nothing to get too excited about. But by scoring the game-winners in the three biggest games of the year to date, the trio gives new hope the group can turn its offensive fortunes around and take a legitimate shot at grabbing a playoff spot some started to give up on shortly after the Olympic break.

Stajan arrived in town with a tag suggesting he’s a second-line centre at best. And while he may not be Calgary’s answer to Adam Oates, he seems to be, at the very least, the glue between the squad’s top two offensive talents.

“It’s not easy to build chemistry between teammates, but sometimes, it clicks, and if all of us work hard, we’ll make sure it does,” said Stajan, a playmaker whose only shot over the last three games was Friday’s game-winner.

“We’ve won all three games, so that’s what you look for.”

When asked if he requested his new linemates in his recent contract negotiations, he smiled.

“No, I couldn’t go that far,” Stajan said.

Forever trying to find the perfect accoutrements for Iginla, the club hasn’t had a potent top line since 2007-08,

when No. 12 meshed with winger Kristian Huselius and centre Daymond Langkow to score 105 goals. Before that you’d have to go all the way back to 2001-02, when Iginla, Craig Conroy and Dean McAmmond formed the MCI line that scored 100 times and earned Iginla a Hart Trophy nomination.

Other than that, the team has constantly tinkered.

“It’s only been a few games so you don’t want to get ahead of yourself, but this is definitely a legitimate line, and you’re getting legitimate production from them,” said Conroy, cautious enough to point out he was similarly high on Olli Jokinen when he scored 10 goals in his first six games as a Flame.

“I’m not saying this line rivals some of the top lines in the league yet, but it’s off to a good start.”

eric.francis@sunmedia.ca


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