CALGARY – The playoff-bound Vancouver Canucks are still fighting for first in the Western Conference, the Presidents' Trophy and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
With nothing but pride on the line, Michael Cammalleri and the Calgary Flames did their part to ensure their division rival will have a rocky road to accomplishing its goals, handing Vancouver a 3-2 loss at Scotiabank Saddledome on Thursday night.
"Regardless of the lack of implications in the standings, it's like anything that a competitive person does -- whether you're playing a ping pong game or anything else, it's just you like to win and you like to win against your rivals," Cammalleri said.
But derailing Vancouver's Presidents' Trophy aspirations was of little comfort to Cammalleri, whose Flames were officially ousted from playoff contention at the hands of the Canucks six days ago.
"To be completely honest, I couldn't care less about playing spoiler," Cammalleri said. "I don't think they're as concerned about us as we think they might be and we don't need to be as concerned about them. For us, we just want to worry about our team and get into a good feeling of playing better hockey and getting ready for next season."
Cammalleri scored two goals in the third period, including the eventual game-winner on a scramble in the crease with just 3:37 remaining in the game to make it 3-1. Matt Stajan whiffed on a one-timer but managed to get enough on the puck to get it into the slot, where Lee Stempniak batted it around before Cammalleri put it behind Cory Schneider for his 20th of the season.
"It was a shift where we were getting our feet moving and creating some opportunities at the net, so I thought I would try to hide back door and the puck ended up back there," Cammalleri said.
Jannik Hansen quickly replied off a scramble, beating Miikka Kiprusoff just 26 seconds later to cut the deficit to one, but the Canucks couldn't get the equalizer despite a late power play and 6-on-4 skating advantage after lifting Schneider for an extra attacker.
The loss cost the Canucks a chance to pass the New York Rangers for the lead in the overall standings. The Canucks remain at 109 points, the most in the Western Conference, but St. Louis can pass them for first in the West by winning its last two games. The Rangers also have 109 points and own the tiebreaker on both the Blues and Canucks.
"You just hope if we want to be where we want to be this spring that it's not something we look back at and say, 'I wish we would've gotten that extra point or two' ", Schneider said. "It's out of our hands now. We just have to win our next game."
The defeat also snaps an impressive run when leading after two for the Canucks. Vancouver had been dominant, compiling a 102 game streak (97-0-5) of earning at least a point when leading after 40 minutes before Calgary's late-game comeback in regulation.
"We've done a pretty good job of holding onto leads and protecting them," coach Alain Vigneault said. "We'll just have to start another streak."
Cammalleri and Curtis Glencross scored earlier in the third period to overcome a 1-0 deficit.
Cammalleri tied the game just 1:27 into the third period, intercepting a shot from the point off the stick of Jay Bouwmeester and lifting it over a downed Schneider to make it 1-1. Akim Aliu, making his debut as the second Nigerian-born player in NHL history, earned an assist on the play.
"It doesn't mean much in the standings for us, but it means a whole lot to me to show myself for next year," Aliu said.
Glencross picked up a turnover in the high slot off the stick of Henrik Sedin and wristed a shot over Schneider's glove at 11:40 to make it 2-1 before Cammalleri and Hansen closed out the scoring late in the third.
The third-period resurgence for Calgary came after the Flames spotted the Canucks a 1-0 lead early in the first period.
Though Calgary had the power play with Samuel Pahlsson off for tripping, Alexandre Burrows broke in on a breakaway and deked forehand-to-backhand before lifting a shot over Kiprusoff at 4:36 of the opening period for his 28th of the season and the 1-0 lead.
Vancouver almost scored on the same play in the second period.
Minutes after Calgary's Tom Kostopoulos hit the post from the top of the crease, Kevin Bieksa hit Chris Higgins with a clearing attempt, sending Higgins in on a shorthanded breakaway from center ice. Higgins streaked in and fired a low shot that was turned aside by the blocker of Kiprusoff at 7:47.
It was one of 32 saves Kiprusoff made in the victory, a game that could be his last action of the season.
"Yeah, I don't know, I might play (Saturday against Anaheim)," Kiprusoff said. "But a win is a win."