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Flames and Kings fought it out with post-season intensity

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Bile, bite and a heaping helping of bad temper.

One team down to a last gasp, its final strike. The other, in ardent search of safe playoff passage.

This one may only have carried playoff implications but in terms of style and texture it certainly felt like the real McCoy.

"Maybe at times,'' replied winger Kris Versteeg, asked if the bubbling cauldron of ill will Wednesday night might've thrown his Flames slightly off-kilter in their first bid to nail down a playoff spot.

"It's gonna happen. You saw stuff carry over almost from the last game.

"Lots over the line.

"I think you knew it was coming, right from the warm-up on. Teams fight for their best players. They're there for them. We'd be there for our best, too.

"It seemed to really carry over in the first and second periods. There was a lot going on."

So the clinch has been put back 48 hours.

Hanging by their fingertips to the playoff ledge, with a 15-storey drop below to sheer asphalt, the L.A. Kings lived to fight at least one more day, sandpapering out a 4-1 victory that kept their pulse flickering.

With the Matthew Tkachuk hit on Kings' captain Drew Doughty here on March 19 that netted the Flames' compelling freshman a two-game suspension as a backdrop, the in a game that could've been pulled out of a '80s time capsule.

Predictably, right from the get-go, Tkachuk played the role of magnet and the Kings were a pile of iron shavings.

The beaking and bickering started, as Versteeg mentioned, in the pre-game warm-up and carried over into a lengthy first period that included two fights, a lot of run-ins and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty just 25 seconds into the game for Tkachuk, who tried to get L.A. D-man Jake Muzzin to shuck the mitts.

Tkachuk did end up fighting Brayden McNabb just minutes later.

In the second, Tkachuk had a bead on Doughty near centre ice, but the L.A. star ducked down, instigating another dust-up.

"Good energy in the building,'' said Tkachuk, distancing himself from the shenanigans post-game. "We obviously want to be better.

"Tip your hat to them, they played good tonight.

"Our mindsets were right, playing hard, physical, skilled guys playing skilled but we didn't execute properly."

On the near TNT blast on Doughty, nothing more than a shrug.

"I think he just lost an edge, he fell and I fell over him."

While a teenager dominated, a decorated campaigner, a proven warrior, stepped to the fore when his new team most needed a boost.

Longtime Calgary captain Jarome Iginla, playing what might well have been his final game at a building he held sway over for so many years, scored once, added a helper and fought Deryk Engelland - the Gordie Howe hat-trick - to keep the Kings afloat.

He thrust L.A. ahead 2-1 in the final minute of the second, feathering a lovely through pass to Jeff Carter to seal the deal at 12:40 of the third.

Wednesday's inherent nastiness must've reminded him of Calgary's gallant '04 run to the Stanley Cup final.

"You can see how warm-up went. You can tell there was some intensity there and some animosity,'' said Iginla afterwards. "It's battling.

"It's competing.

"I thought both sides, that was part of it. You can feel it right from the drop of the puck, there was some big hits. There was obviously some fights.

"I thought it was closer to a playoff game. Those are fun to be a part of - that intensity. The building was going tonight.

"We're do-or-die at this point. Nobody's giving up."

When asked about Tkachuk, he was his diplomatic Iginla self.

"I don't know if I agree with all of it, so we'll just leave it at that,'' was the reply. "He's had a good rookie season and he's playing well on their team. An important part. He looks like he's going to be a really good player. It'll be nice just to see the battles on the ice as opposed to the other stuff. He'll be fun to watch.

"Obviously our fans, they're not going to like him for a long time or ever and visa versa, but that's the fun part of sports."

The odds remain prohibitive on the Kings but the 39-year-old, battling tooth and nail, wasn't going to give up.

"I'm sure he's had a couple of those games before in this building,'' said L.A. centre Anze Kopitar, magnificent on the night. "It's great.

"He comes to the rink every day, gives it his all. I think for the majority, if not all of us, we're very privileged to be in his presence. To be in the same locker room as him and just to see him being professional and how he prepares, how he competes and his emotions during the game.

"I think he's a future Hall-of-Famer that everybody in here can learn a lot from."

Hopefully the Flames did a bit of learning, too.

"We just didn't execute,'' confessed coach Glen Gulutzan. "We didn't play our game. They got us into a big, grinding game.

"We didn't play fast.

"We got out-battled on our powerplay (0-for-6). I don't think we generated a chance. Maybe one.

"We weren't clicking. We didn't have any jump.

"When you look at game that's a grinding game, how many chances did we have? Probably under eight. 

"That's a character team over there with character people. They know what they were facing, they embraced it, they came hard and they beat us."

Another chance to clinch in 48 hours, with the San Jose Sharks in town.

"We're going to have to delay that a couple more days,'' said Tkachuk, "and have a better effort Friday."

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