Karri Ramo tried to play down such talk, but those around the Calgary Flames netminder think he was under-stating what it meant to him.
Ramo’s return to Florida to face the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team he bolted from without much resistance some four years ago, was a roaring success, thanks to a dream offensive start and a 31-save performance in Calgary’s 4-1 victory Thursday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
“It’s good to get a win. There’s some familiar faces I saw, not on the ice, so many, and it’s nice to get a win here,” Ramo said. “That team is playing so well, so for us to come with a couple tough games before it … it was a good game.
“Everybody pitched in.”
Everybody pitched in, but Ramo indeed had the biggest hand in the result, especially while his squad was under siege in the final two periods, during which he faced 27 shots before the announced crowd of 17,495.
“Goalies, I think it’s easy mental preparation when you’re playing against your old team,” said Flames head coach Bob Hartley. “As a coach, I always hate to coach against former goalies because you know they want to beat you bad.
“Karri, once again, was very, very solid.”
He had to be especially solid. The Flames had a pair of forwards in Matt Stajan and Paul Byron return to Calgary for personal reasons, which added more pressure on those in the lineup.
And with the season-ending shoulder injury to Tyler Wotherspoon, the already depleted defence corps took another hit and ended up needing minor-league defenceman in Chad Billins and Chris Breen to make up their final pairing.
“I think they played pretty well,” Flames winger Kevin Westgarth, whose first period goal held up for the winner, said of the Lightning. “They had some chances that Rammer absolutely stole from them.
“I don’t think it was one of our best games, execution-wise, but once again the effort’s there and playing with that blue-collar mentality and it ended up paying dividends again.”
As good as Ramo was between the pipes, he did have some room to play with thanks to goals by Michael Cammalleri and Westgarth just 15 seconds apart midway through the opening frame.
For Cammalleri, it’s his 10th goal in 13 games while Westgarth has scored three times in seven outings. Breen collected his first NHL point by assisting on the latter tally.
“Huge,” Hartley said to describe what those goals meant to his team, which had dropped the first two games of this road swing. “The Lightning were playing so well, I think one loss in their last 9 or 10 games. You get two goals off your forecheck, it’s great.
“Then, we managed to stay in the game. We knew they would keep coming – here is one of the fastest teams in the league, if not the fastest — and our guys deserve lots of credit.”
Tampa rookie Ondrej Palat scored his 20th goal of the season to make it a one-goal game heading into the final frame, but Ramo stood tall long enough for Curtis Glencross to provide a late insurance goal and then an empty netter.
“Getting those two goals off the hop, that allows us to play with a little more confidence, be ready for their offensive firepower, which they have in spades,” Westgarth said. “Our tendy has been standing on his head. He played great and it’s great to see. It’s nice to get a win against your old team.
“It’s always nice to give a little back there.”
You could even say Ramo was dialed in and provided his best performance of the season.
“It’s so hot, you just have to stand there and you’re sweating, so it’s easy to get into the game,” Ramo said. “A win is a win. It’s tough to pick the best game, but when you let in one goal, you can be happy.”
Ben Bishop stopped 21 shots for the Lightning (42-25-9), who went from finishing with the third-worst record last season to earning a playoff spot this time around and are battling Montreal for home-ice advantage in what looks to be a first-round series.
The Flames face the Florida Panthers Friday night in the fourth game of their trip.