CALGARY -- The Flames have been saying it pretty consistently during this 25-game run that has vaulted them into a playoff position -- anyone at anytime has the ability to step up and make a difference.
That mantra was once again a reality Wednesday night, as defensemen Cory Sarich and Steve Staios scored third-period goals 2:17 apart to send the Flames to a 4-2 victory against the foundering Dallas Stars at Scotiabank Saddledome.
Sarich's game-winner was his third of the season; Staios' insurance goal was only his second.
The Flames improved to 16-4-5 since Dec. 23, just days before GM Darryl Sutter left the club and was replaced by assistant Jay Feaster. The team has been exuding confidence during the past two months and showed Wednesday that a 2-1 deficit halfway through the game wasn't going to shake their new-found confidence.
"I think everyone's getting an opportunity to chip in and guys are taking advantage of it," said forward Tom Kostopoulos, whose fifth goal of the season with 5:51 left in the second period tied the game at 2-all. "Just the confidence. When I first got here, it seemed like if we were in a game like that, everyone's head would've been down and would’ve accepted loss.
"It seems like now there's a confidence going into the late part of games and when we're down a goal and we can still win the game."
That confidence will carry over into the Flames' next game, which will be the 2011 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic against the Montreal Canadiens at McMahon Stadium. It will be the first outdoor game in Canada since the 2003 Heritage Classic between the Canadiens and Oilers at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.
"It's going to be awesome," said Flames defenseman Mark Giordano, who had his sixth goal of the season taken away by a scoring change and given to Olli Jokinen. "It's going to be a great experience. Not too many of us have been in an outdoor game. I know I'm pumped for it and I'm sure all the other guys are too."
But before the business of preparing for hockey game in freezing temperatures in front of about 40,000 fans had to wait for a battle between two teams fighting for playoff positioning. The Stars had been entrenched in a top-3 spot for most of the season, but a 2-8-1 slide has dropped into a five-way tie for fourth place.
The Flames, who have 68 points, are among the teams in that log-jam, but are still in eighth place due to tiebreakers; the Stars occupy the seventh spot.
"We're just going to put our heads down and enjoy tonight then get ready for the next game," Staios said. "That's what's given us success in the past. We're not getting too caught up in the standings because you can go from ninth to fourth on any given night."
The Flames jumped all over the Stars in the first period by outshooting the visitors by a 16-3 margin. Jokinen opened the scoring at 4:14 by getting the smallest piece of Giordano's blast from the point that redirected through the legs of goaltender Kari Lehtonen.
Forward David Moss picked up an assist on that goal, giving the Curtis Glencross-Jokinen-Moss line 27 points in their past six games.
The Stars turned the table in the second period as Mike Ribeiro and Jamie Langenbrunner scored in a span of 3:26 to turn a one-goal deficit into a one-goal advantage.
Ribeiro's goal was a fortunate one, as he held onto the puck too long during a 2-on-1, failing to make a pass or get off a shot. But his desperation fling to the front of the net clipped off the skate of Jokinen and past goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff to tie the score at 7:21.
Langenbrunner gave the Stars their short-lived lead when he whipped a shot from the left face-off circle into a mostly empty net at 10:47.
That was about as good as it got for the Stars, who held a closed-door, players-only meeting after the game.
"The second period, we played the way we needed to play," said Langenbrunner, who had an assist on Ribeiro's goal. "It's a work in progress. You got to keep battling through it. Hopefully we can take the good out of how we played that second period and find a way to play that for 60 minutes."
Sarich's seeing-eye goal that pinged off the crossbar and Staios' shorthanded goal that was set up by a beautiful backhand pass by Rene Bourque capped the Flames' 10th win in 12 games. Kiprusoff made a highlight reel save in the final seconds when he robbed Brendon Morrow with his catching glove.
While this 25-game run has basically coincided with the departure of Sutter, defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said it's unfair to scapegoat him for the poor start to this season.
"I don't think it should matter," Bouwmeester said. "The day-to-day things, the personnel … that sort of thing around here hasn't changed. You're definitely not using that sort of thing as an excuse. When things like that happen, it's because a lot of guys aren't doing what they're supposed to do. It sucks no matter what it is, any sort of changes. You never hope something like that has to happen to wake guys up."
The Flames now have three days to prepare for the Canadiens and a day off Thursday. As nice as it is to get the privilege of playing in an outdoor game, the Flames are just as happy to get a break after playing nine games in 16 days.
"Our schedule's been crazy the last month," Kostopoulos said. "For the guys that play big minutes, I think they're exhausted. To have a couple days where you don't have to play is real nice."
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