Eric Nystrom scored the game winning goal and the Flames outshot Minnesota 40-15 to beat the Wild for the fifth straight time this season, 3-2. I try to be as cautious as I can be when labelling wins “huge”, “big” or “great”, and I won't do so this game. But with the Canucks closing within a point last night, this was a must win. Not only does it prevent the Canucks from passing Calgary before the Flames' next game, the Flames won one of their more winnable games down the stretch. Had the Flames not beaten a heavily injured Wild team on the bubble that they usually dominate anyway, I might as well have thrown in the towel.
This was a game that was not nearly as close as the score indicated. The Wild only had 15 shots on goal, an even five in each period, and their two goals were basically extremely lucky – the first goal was their only significant time in the Flames' zone in the first, and the second goal was the result of a rare bad turnover by Craig Conroy in his own zone. Pure luck and the play of Niklas Backstrom that kept the Wild in the game. The Flames had several near misses that would have put them up two goals and almost certainly buried the Wild. I'm even willing to say that if Curtis Glencross' powerplay goal – the first of two that were waved off on the same powerplay late in the second period – was not waved off (a call I believe was one of the worst I have seen all year) the Wild would probably not have stayed in the game until the end. That being said though, Eric Nystrom had perhaps his best game yet as a Flame. Taking advantage of a bad Minnesota line change, and helped by a good takeaway by Olli Jokinen, Nystrom converted a 2-on-1 pass from Jarome Iginla by dropping to one knee and roofing one over Backstrom's glove. This continues a long streak of great play by Nystrom, who during the Flames' terrible games this month has often been their most effective forward. Nystrom is really starting to come into his own as a somewhat invaluable energy player. The strong play of Nystrom and the Flames' shockingly effective call-up Jamie Lundmark (who also had a goal and assist tonight) is what is keeping the Flames in this divisional race. Tonight's game winner was Nystrom's third of the year and second this month – out of his five total goals on the year. Flames fans can only hope he continues his play into the playoffs, where his father became an Islanders legend with two Stanley Cup winning goals during the Islanders dynasty.
Other thoughts on the game. The Flames snapped out of their two game goalless drought with decent performances from their three big guns who have disappeared of late. Jarome Iginla had a terrible missed shot streaking down the wing in the second, and barely missed a great powerplay setup early in the third to continue his bizarre and frustrating cold streak, but set up Nystrom for the game winner. Olli Jokinen assisted on the same goal due to a great takeaway and pass to Iginla. The only one really absent was Mike Cammalleri, who had six shots in the 20-shot first and none the rest of the game, and was -2…in my opinion, Cammalleri has been the coldest of the Flames' big three. Don't interpret this to mean that I have turned on Cammy just because I know he's leaving after this season, but he's definitely showing how he is a one dimensional playerl…granted, it was against a Minnesota penalty kill lacking several key players, but the powerplay was remarkably organized tonight, with players actually seeming to move around for once instead of the Flames' usual perimeter play…Dion Phaneuf had one of his better games in awhile…Craig Conroy's -1 rating was his first minus rating in three games. Conroy is quietly a +17 on the season….my last blog was centered on criticism of Mike Keenan, but my only real gripe this game is him yet again not playing Adam Pardy significantly. After playing excellent with big minutes for a few months when Jim Vandermeer was injured, Pardy has either been healthy scratched or played as a 4th line forward since Jordan Leopold was re-acquired at the deadline. I think Pardy plays better defense than both Leopold and Vandermeer, so I don't get this.
Am I impressed with tonight's win? Do I consider it a great or huge win? I have an aversion to those words to describe most games. No, this game was simply a must win game for the Flames that they delivered on. There was pretty much no excuse for losing this game going in, and the Flames beat the Wild convincingly, though a general lack of luck made the game closer than it should be. The Flames' play the last month has been so bad that odd wins like this aren't good enough; they simply have to get back to the way they were playing before the trade deadline. There is no better measuring stick/wake up call than Monday's game versus San Jose. The Flames will still have a slim lead on the division going into that game. I am cautiously optimistic right now due to this win, and can only hope that tomorrow's Blackhawks-Canucks game serves as a first round playoff preview after all. Perhaps the San Jose game will be a good litmus test to see if that's still viable.
– Alex Hamilton
(wow, that blog was much longer than I intended. Remember, that doesn't mean I think this win saves the Flames' season!! I just really liked Nystrom's performance and ended up with more notes on this game to share than I expected)
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Written by Alex Hamilton