Shipped out of town because it was believed he wasn’t good enough or experienced enough to help the Flames down the stretch, Curtis McElhinney is doing just that.
But with another team.
Traded to the Anaheim Ducks at the deadline in exchange for veteran Vesa Toskala, McElhinney has aided the Flames more than he ever could had he remained in town.
Making 27 saves in a 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche Wednesday, McElhinney had a (glove) hand in the Flames charging to within two points of the Avs in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“I didn’t even know he played tonight. I just found out,” Flames winger Rene Bourque said after a
2-1 Flames win over the Phoenix Coyotes at the Saddledome capped off the best scenario possible for his team.
“I’ll send him a text, maybe buy him dinner on the road.”
He didn’t get a whole lot of support on the ice from the Flames when they were teammates, but you can bet McElhinney will feel the love now.
The Flames victory would have been a little hollow had the Avalanche stormed McElhinney and the Ducks and kept their lead at four points with a game in hand.
Keeping pace is fine, but gaining on the team they’re now facing with a chance to tie Friday at the Pepsi Center has given the Flames the kind of morale boost no one thought possible just a few nights ago after losses to the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins.
For a team that needs all the help it can get, McElhinney is an unlikely hero.
Essentially a moving target in practice while here, Flames fans likely never expected to hear his name again.
“I heard he was starting,” said blueliner Cory Sarich.
“Nice to get some help. We definitely need a little bit this time of year, and now it’s there for us to do our thing.”
You get the feeling GM Darryl Sutter will somehow try to spin the trade in his favour by claiming he moved him to the Ducks knowing he could make a difference for them down the stretch with games against the Avs and Los Angeles Kings — another team the Flames are chasing that the Ducks play twice in their next three outings.
But the reality was McElhinney was viewed as an anchor with a hectic schedule ahead for the Flames after the Olympic break and a spotty track record.
With his fourth straight victory in a Ducks uniform, the 26-year-old has doubled his NHL win total. He posted just four in parts of three seasons with the Flames.
None (at least when it comes to his former team) as big as Wednesday night’s inspirational (again, for the Flames more than the Ducks) thrashing of the Avs.
“I heard he’s playing pretty good,” said centre Mikael Backlund. “We really appreciate that.”
Texts, phone calls and maybe even a thank-you card or two would be a great way to express it to their old friend.
“Actually, I tried to call him three times after he did get traded and he didn’t answer,” joked former locker-room neighbour Miikka Kiprusoff. “I don’t know if he changed his number or didn’t like me after all. Good for him. Good goalie and I hope he’s doing well there.”
He did well for the Flames Wednesday night.
Better than when he was wearing their colours.