If it were possible to have a zero-zero tie as the final score in an NHL game in 2010 (after OT and the shootout!), this would have been it. The Calgary Flames played in Toronto for the first time since the big Phaneuf and Aulie for Stajan, White, Hagman and Mayers trade and it was an absolute sleeper for the first 53 minutes. It was so dead at the arena in Toronto that I thought Calgary was playing a home game for a few minutes. Then the “Go Leafs Go!” chants started, and I was still not sure which rink they were playing in.
All kidding aside, it was a pretty boring game for the most part. Just when everyone was starting to think to themselves next goal wins, Niklas Hagman and Matt Stajan combined for a crease-bashing, “whack-a-mole” goal to put the Flames up 1-0. It was a storybook goal for the two ex-Leafs who were under the microscope in their first game back in Toronto. Stajan looked almost as happy as he did after he scored his first NHL goal on his first shot back in the ’02-’03 season.
It seemed like Stajan’s goal would be the game winner until Ales Kotalik took a penalty with just over 2 minutes left in the game. The Leafs powerplay went to work and controlled the puck for the entire two minutes. They had numerous shots on Miikka Kiprusoff and many of them were good scoring chances. With Giguerre on the bench for an extra attacker, the Leafs managed to get a puck past the Flames goaltender one second after Kotalik’s penalty ended. With 12 seconds left in the game, the Leafs tied it up and sent it to overtime.
Overtime proved nothing, despite a Flames powerplay, and it took a shootout to determine a winner. Tyler Bozak was the fist shooter and beat Kipper with the same move he used on his short-handed, 3rd period breakaway. Rene Bourque and Phil Kessel both missed before Alex Tanguay squeaked one past Giguerre to even it at 1-1. After Colby Armstrong scored to put the Leafs ahead, most Flames fans gave a big, “Oh, no” as Ales Kotalik took to the ice. But Kotalik (who has actually been one of the NHL’s best shootout guys since it started in 2005) beat Giggy and tied it up. Leafs leading scorer, Mikhail Grabovski, missed his attempt and gave Barney Jokinen a chance to win the game for the Flames. And you know what? He did.
Jokinen, who continues to baffle us all with his play, scored on Giguerre with a right-to-left, off the inside of the post deke move to give the Flames the win. While the game never should have arrived at that point, it was a sigh of relief for Flames fans who were expecting to leave the night with another 2 points.
As boring as the game was, pre-game and in-between-periods commentary created quite a stir as the Hockey Night in Canada crew did their best to try to figure out what Flames GM, Jay Feaster, should do with the team. There was everything from “blow it up and rebuild from scratch” to “just do whatever you can to get rid of some big contracts and try to get some young talent.” At the end of the day we were no wiser, but I do expect to see a lot of “re-tooling, rebuilding or keep it the same” posts from the Flames bloggers out there in the next little while.
Whatever happens on the ice and in the blogosphere, nothing will be sure until we get another 10-15 games into the season to know where we stand. An 8-game winning streak could put us right in the thick of the playoff race just as easily as a 5-game losing streak could end our hopes of another first-round playoff exit. It seems pretty clear that our fate could be decided by February. If not, we’ll have to keep on hoping for a miracle as the rest of the season continues and the playoffs near.