Seeing the Colorado Avalanche so close behind has scared the Calgary Flames into playing their best hockey of the season.
Kristian Huselius had a goal and an assist, and Craig Conroy also scored as Calgary remained seven points ahead of Colorado for the final Western Conference playoff spot. The Flames have won six straight since Colorado closed within four points two weeks ago, and can clinch by beating the Avalanche in Calgary on Tuesday, one of two remaining head-to-head matchups.
“The big thing is Colorado is right there so it feels like playoff time already,” Conroy said.
The Flames had lost five of six before the recent turnaround. They were also one of the worst teams on the road, but have now won a season-high four straight away from home.
“We knew we were in a tight spot and battling for a playoff position, and fortunately we were able to pick up our game,” Langkow said. “It’s because we’re playing a lot better defensively.”
Brendan Morrison and Markus Naslund made it close as the Canucks outshot Calgary 18-3 in the third period before losing in regulation for just the second time in 15 games (11-2-2). Still, they remained three points ahead of Minnesota atop the Northwest Division.
“Obviously they’re battling for their lives right now and I think we came out a little flat to start the game and they were hungrier than us,” said Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo, who made 15 saves.
Morrison ended Kiprusoff’s shutout bid 6:37 into the third, and Naslund pulled the Canucks within one by scoring a controversial power-play goal with 3:54 left.
With the puck lying on the goal line during a wild scramble, Naslund appeared to miss it with a lunging attempt with his stick. It went in as he jammed at it with his glove. Replays showed the puck didn’t go over the line until a diving Kiprusoff hit it with his blocker.
The Flames goalie made up for it by robbing Daniel Sedin from the top of the crease with 6.8 seconds left to preserve the win.
“It was pretty tough third period, we took too many penalties,” Kiprusoff said. “We can’t do that this time of year but have to be happy. It’s a big two points for us. Every game for a long time now has been big, and we still need to win.”
Both teams were missing key defensemen. The Canucks continued to play without top-three defenders Sami Salo (groin) and Mattias Ohlund (elbow cut), while second-year Flames standout Dion Phaneuf missed a second straight game with the flu.
Their absence certainly didn’t take any emotion out of the game. Calgary captain Jarome Iginla and defenseman Willie Mitchell dropped the gloves for a spirited scrap during a post-whistle line change just 2:34 in, sparking a melee that featured lots of pushing and left the ice littered with equipment.
“That’s why he’s our captain,” said Langkow, who opened the scoring a minute and a half later. “It was definitely an emotional boost for us.”
Langkow set up Conroy for a tap-in on a short-handed 2-on-1 1:31 into the second, and Huselius made it 3-0 on a power play at 3:58, setting up Iginla in the slot.
“The first 25 minutes we had some pretty bad breakdowns in our own zone and it’s tough to come back from 3-0,” Luongo said.
Kiprusoff continued a stellar stretch at the other end. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner has stopped 175 of 184 shots during the six-game winning streak. He got a shoulder on Naslund’s shot during a 2-on-1 and stopped Daniel Sedin in tight early.
Kiprusoff also got help from defenseman Andrei Zyuzin, who got a stick on Naslund’s wraparound toward an empty net. Matt Cooke beat him from in close midway through the second but hit the post with a shot.
CGY: Langkow (32) A: Huselius
CGY: Conroy (13) A: Langkow, Regehr
CGY: Huselius (33) A: Iginla, Langkow
VAN: Morrison (20) A: Cooke
VAN: Naslund (23) A