Sailing from deep inside the Calgary Flames zone to just outside the Chicago Blackhawks blueline, there was no doubt where Alex Tanguay’s offering would land.
Predictably, it was right on the tape wrapped around the blade of Jarome Iginla’s stick, springing the Flames captain for a breakaway in the late stages of a one-goal game.
Making the best of his opportunity, Iginla faked out goaltender Ray Emery and padded the lead.
And it shows the importance of a (relatively) healthy Alex Tanguay in the Flames lineup.
Tanguay has played three games since returning from a neck injury that kept him out of 16 NHL contests, but the 32-year-old left-winger is getting better with every outing.
Playing more than 20 minutes Friday night in the 3-1 victory over the Blackhawks, the product of Ste-Justine, Que., helped the Flames do something they have struggled to do without him — put the final nail in an opponent’s coffin with an insurance goal.
“He brings a lot of skill to our lineup — he just finds ways to produce,” said Iginla, whose Flames enjoyed a day-off Saturday ahead of a three-game road trip that begins Monday in Anaheim against the host Ducks (8 p.m., Sportsnet West/Sportsnet 960). “He just finds ways to make players he plays with better.
“We need that.”
That’s even more key for the club with the likes of Curtis Glencross and Lee Stempniak shelved with serious injuries that will keep them out for weeks during the most critical stretch of the season.
As for Tanguay, he sure looks like he’s healthy again — the proof in three assists since his return.
“His wheels are going now — you can see he feels good … well, he looks good anyway,” Iginla said. “He must feel good the way he’s playing.”
He feels better than he did for much of the last month. But he’s not exactly playing at 100%.
“Physically, I’m still working on it a little bit,” Tanguay admitted. “There’s times on the ice where my shifts were a little shorter, perhaps, than the other two (teammates) on my line. But it’ll get back.
“I have to deal with it, you know. I’m sure it’s gonna need tons of therapy to the end of the year. That’s an issue, hopefully, we can resolve as soon as possible — most likely its gonna be ongoing therapy through the summer.
“But I feel good. I’m working extremely hard at feeling as good as I can possibly feel, and I’m ready to go.”
If the Flames are going to make the playoffs, they’ll have to find a balance between offence and defence and on the powerplay and the penalty kill.
Tanguay is a key component to that. His skills on the powerplay are obvious. He’s also been featured on the penalty kill. Offensively, there’s no doubting his skills. And linemate Olli Jokinen says it was a defence-first attitude that led to that long stretch pass to Iginla in the third period.
“Big picture, we want to play safe — we want to make safe plays,” Jokinen said. “But when you play safe — when you play good defence — you’re actually gonna be able to make passes like he did.”
Despite any discomfort he may be experiencing, Tanguay is eager to continue to contribute and says things have been “falling into place” since his return.
“I feel better and better on a daily basis with the puck,” Tanguay said.
“I know as far as I’m concerned, what I did before Christmas, I’ve got to pick it up. I’ve got to help this team moving forward.
“I’ve got to help this team get to the playoffs.”
On Twitter: @SUNMacfarlane