DENVER — Vesa Toskala's passport says he’s Finnish.
The way the Calgary Flames No.-2 goalie performed while backstopping his team to a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche Wednesday — St. Patrick's Day — you'd think he had some Irish in him.
“A lot,” he said when asked whether he had any ancestry from the Emerald Isle. “Actually, no.
“It’s a big day, but no time for us to celebrate.”
Definitely not by tipping back a Guinness or two, but the Flames had a reason to do a jig.
Their critical win has them one point back of Detroit for eighth spot in the Western Conference standings. Seventh-place Nashville has a four-point edge.
A big part of their rejuvenated playoff hopes can be attributed to the play of Toskala, who was somewhat surprisingly given the start in goal instead of No.-1 netminder Miikka Kiprusoff with the team’s second-season hopes beginning to hang in the balance.
However, head coach Brent Sutter said he wasn’t playing a hunch or looking for some luck.
“Three games in four nights and Vesa needs to play, too, and get his opportunity,” Sutter explained. “The timing was right, and he deserved it.”
Kiprusoff has been victimized by the Avs four times this season, all by 3-2 scores, and that may have been a factor in the decision.
Either way, Toskala came through with a 32-save performance, which included big saves seemingly right after every Flames goal.
“He played great,” said Rene Bourque, the biggest offensive star of the night after scoring two goals.
“He made some big saves early on in the game and was there when we needed him. He was a difference maker.”
Toskala was spotted an early lead thanks to Bourque’s shorthanded goal just over three minutes into the clash.
Eric Nystrom doubled the lead a few minutes later, capping off the kind of goal grinders everywhere can appreciate, since linemates Jamal Mayers and Curtis Glencross both did some strong board work before Nystrom was given the golden scoring chance.
Bourque made it 3-0 with a rare powerplay goal early in the middle frame, which gives him a career high 22.
“It’s nice to do that, especially in a big game,” Bourque said. “To get two and help our team is huge.”
Especially when the Avalanche tried to come back.
Colorado has twice beat the Flames despite trailing by a pair of goals, and was looking to do the same. The Avs came close thanks to Chris Durno’s tally late in the second period and then Milan Hejduk’s goal which made it a one-goal game with 32.5 seconds remaining on the clock.
There were some frantic seconds until the clock hit zero, but how close the final score became didn’t matter to the Flames, who were all too aware the importance of the game.
“Huge,” Toskala said. “If you let that gap get too big with only 12 games left, it’s tough.”
Calgary (35-26-9) snapped a two-game losing skid, and has that much more faith in its playoffs chances, even though there are plenty of followers who have written them off.
“They’re not true fans if they’re thinking that. There’s a lot left in us,” Bourque said.
The Flames host the San Jose Sharks Friday.