March 27, 2012
Stars shine — for Flames
By ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency
CALGARY - You can be forgiven for believing just 26 seconds in that the game — and thus the season — was over for the Calgary Flames last night.
Cruelly, the man responsible for the early deficit was the man most responsible for the Flames lasting this long into a faint-hope playoff push anyways: Miikka Kiprusoff.
In less time than it would likely take Steve Ott to slewfoot a slow-crossing pensioner, the Flames most valuable player all season long allowed a floating wrist shot from Jamie Benn to glance off his atypically slow glove and into the net to put the visiting Dallas Stars up 1-0.
There was no deflection off a defenceman’s stick, and he wasn’t screened in any way.
Kiprusoff just blew it. Rare.
Was that really the way the Flames playoff dreams would die, against a team that rarely allows more than a goal or two?
But in many ways, what happened next is symbolic of the Flames season.
Much as they had to do after the season’s horrific opening month, they fought back gamely to dig themselves out of the early hole.
In a game they had to win to keep their playoff chances alive, the Flames battled back twice from deficits to hold a stunning 5-3 lead heading into the final frame.
The question then: Could they finally hold onto a lead ... and their season.
That question was largely answered shortly after allowing a Philip Larsen powerplay goal that closed to the gap to one, while also clinching the jaws and buttocks of everyone in attendance.
It was then the hosts pieced together a stunning stanza midway through the third period that saw the Flames hem the Stars into their own zone for close to two minutes.
Tom Kostoupolos was diving everywhere, they mucked, they cycled and they controlled the puck.
Yes, instead of sitting back on their heals, trying in vain once again to protect a late lead, the Flames went on the offensive, earning a standing ovation in parts of the typically dormant ’Dome.
Cue Journey’s obligatory Don’t Stop Believin’.
Six seconds before the game’s final horn, Steve Ott bobbled a pass at the side of the net that might otherwise have ruined a rewarding — yet wild — 5-4 win by the Flames.
Fitting, given it was the Stars’ lack of discipline — spearheaded by Ott’s boneheadedness — that gave Calgary life, and three powerplay goals.
But, in the end, it was Kiprusoff’s 16 saves in the first that kept the team in the game as he ultimately emerged a hero with 35 saves.
“I remember being a kid and playing goal in ball hockey and as soon as my shutout was over, I wanted to go play out,” smiled Cammalleri in a dressing room full of relief.
“I have a lot of respect for a guy like Miikka, who is able to be in a game where four got by him and he’s still able to battle and win us a game. That first goal hurt but the talk quickly became ‘we’re going to have to score two and create chances anyway.’ So let’s get it done.”
They did, counting on all the usual suspects — Cammalleri, Olli Jokinen, Alex Tanguay, Mark Giordano and even Blake Comeau — to get the job done offensively for the first time in awhile.
But it sure didn’t look good less than a minute in.
“If it happens 30 seconds into the game, you’ve still got 59-and-a-half minutes to get it back,” said a philosophical Jay Bouwmeester.
“Every night, he comes up with handfuls of saves that kind of leave you scratching your head, so when we can bail him out like that, it’s good.”