The C of Red returned to the Saddledome.
Only to be whitewashed by a Moose.
National Hockey League playoff hockey finally returned to the Stampede City for the first time since 1996 and was greeted by an overstuffed Saddledome gathering of 19,289.
The party was spoiled by Johan Hedberg.
Hedberg, the Canucks backup, blocked 19 shots in a little more than two periods of duty, leading Vancouver to a 2-1 win last night.
The Canucks now have that same 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, with the pivotal Game 4 slated for tomorrow at the 'Dome.
"This is what everybody wants to do," Hedberg said. "Everybody out of the playoffs is jealous of us because it's fun to play."
Hedberg, nicknamed Moose because he arrived in Pittsburgh with a painted mask from his AHL stint in Manitoba and backstopped the Pens to the 2001 conference final, was pressed into duty late in the first period when Vancouver's No.-1 netminder Dan Cloutier went down with an apparent injured right knee.
The club referred to it as a "lower body injury."
Despite being victimized by Chris Simon for the game's first goal early in the second period, Hedberg settled in and held the fort, though the Flames certainly didn't generate as many scoring chances as they'd like.
"He's a great backup and that's the reason they traded for him," said Calgary defenceman Andrew Ference, his teammate in Pittsburgh that year. "We're not licking our chops because he's a great goalie.
"We're just gonna have to do the same things, drive the nets, shoot the puck lots and just focus more on our team than who's in their net."
Calgary's golden chance to go ahead in the series -- a lead and the backup between the pipes -- didn't materialize in front of the biggest hockey crowd this city's seen since the 1994-95 season. Any momentum gained from Simon's tally was killed a minute later when Markus Naslund tied the score by collecting Vancouver's sixth powerplay goal of the series.
Pesky Matt Cooke netted the winner early in the third period, taking advantage of a turnover in Calgary's zone and roofing a shot past Miikka Kiprusoff.
"I think we all wanted to come out with a better start than we did. We were pretty sloppy, lots of uncharacteristic mistakes," said Calgary defenceman Robyn Regehr. "Miikka played great but it came down to special teams."
Both Calgary's powerplay and penalty killing units were not up to snuff.
Though given plenty of opportunities to even the count, the Flames were blanked on four man-advantages over the final two periods, including one with just over five minutes remaining.
"I thought we had a ton of chances," said GM/head coach Darryl Sutter, whose club failed to click on seven powerplays. "Our powerplay, except for one in the second period, had a chance to score on every one of them.
"It's that timely goal."
The end result was far from what the gathering wanted but it certainly was a reminder of what fans have been missing in these parts during the franchise's seven-year playoff drought. Especially the nastiness that comes from a series.
RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun
, Last Updated: 3:20 PM ET