Persistence pays off

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

They went to the net.

They went with speed and determination. They hovered. They screened.

Just like they talked about in practice.

Problem was, every time they went hard to the net, so did the Oilers.

Time after time in the opening period, the Calgary Flames tried to plant themselves in front of Dwayne Roloson only to be met by defencemen like Jason Smith, Steve Staios and Matt Greene. Or a forward like Jarret Stoll.

And the welcome wasn't warm, as Chuck Kobasew found out while getting battered by Smith on three separate occasions during a single shift.

"If it was easy, everyone would be doing it," said Kobasew. "We didn't do it in the first game. We've got to pay the price in the hard areas. That's what it took to get it working."

There's no doubt the sacrifice paid off and, despite a trifecta of stubborn Oilers who kept opposition forwards from getting to the goaltender early, the Flames got rebound goals from Stephane Yelle and Marcus Nilson to eke out a 2-1 win last night in front of a sold-out Saddledome crowd in Calgary's first home game of the season.

"We found the way we need to play. Put pucks to the net and you get bounces. Seems to be the way you score goals in this league," said winger Jeff Friesen while sporting an oversized red Flames tie goaie Jamie McLennan introduced as an award that goes to the player who is 'all business.'

"We were really emphasising (going to the net hard) in practice."

After a handful of unsuccessful attempts to beat Roloson from in close during the opening frame, Yelle nicked Friesen's pass just enough to slip it through the Oilers backstop's legs and -- with just eight seconds left in the period -- accomplish what the Flames were unable to do in the season opener Thursday night:

Rattle Rollie the Goalie.

Seconds later, Roloson lost his cool on Jarome Iginla and sparked a post-siren scuffle to kick off the first intermission.

Roloson, offended by Iginla's shot as time expired, made like he was going to swat the puck at the winger's head but held back -- although the mere suggestion of it prompted Iginla to confront the netminder face to his face.

The tussle seemed to ignite the Flames and swing the momentum decidedly in favour of the homeside.

Nilson's winner came in the final minute of the second period but if not for a brilliant performance by the Flames' penalty killers during a full two-minute, 5-on-3 Oilers advantage, the game could have had a very different outcome.

With Jamie Lundmark and Darren McCarty in the sin bin, the Flames kept their provincial rivals to a single shot that deflected off defenceman Robyn Regehr and was swatted aside by Miikka Kiprusoff.

Kiprusoff made sure the lead stood up on the night his William Jennings and Vezina trophies were trotted out onto the ice surface during the opening ceremony which also saw the Flames' Northwest Division banner unveiled in the rafters.

"The 5-on-3 was huge," said Friesen. "With hard work, you can battle through times like that."

The penalty kill may have been the turning point but the Flames' game plan was certainly well executed.

"We talked for two days about getting pucks down low and playing a hard, grinding game," said Jim Playfair, who earned his first regular-season NHL win as coach. "It worked real well.


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