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The veteran pivot has been key in the Flames' recent success

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

The goal itself was vital.

The guy on the business end of it, special.

"Everyone,'' says Curtis Lazar, as a trickle of Calgary Flames begin trooping out to the ice on an optional post-trip Saturday early afternoon skate at WinSport, "is drawn to Staj. Just his personality and leadership qualities inside the room.

"He's an easy guy to root for.

"When he pops one the way he did (Friday), you can feel the excitement run through the entire team. It just energizes everybody.

 "There's been that jump in his step. He's able to recognize when our team needs a boost.

"You know what they say? Timing is everything."

Case in point: 11:41 of the third period. The Flames clinging to a tissue-thin 1-0 lead at Canadian Tire Centre. That is, before Matt Stajan, driving to the net, re-directs an inch-perfect diagonal Lazar pass behind Ottawa goaltender Mike Condon that stands up as the game-winner.

Video: CGY@OTT: Stajan taps in Lazar's sweet pass

Bottom six scoring at key moments is nothing short of essential at this time of year, given the claustrophobic traffic jam in the Western Conference standings.

Dropped points, under the circumstances, are simply not an option.

So in squirrelling away five out of a possible six on the just-completed three-game road swing, the Flames kept themselves in the thick of the hunt.

One of the pleasant of late has been the contribution of the fourth line - of Lazar, Stajan and Troy Brouwer.

"We're jelling really well,'' adjudges Stajan. "We've been playing really well since the New Year. Me and Curtis have developed a chemistry. Brouw got put with us a few weeks ago and we've just kept going with it.

"Keeping things simple but playing hard and right now we're feeling more confident with the puck and making plays, which goes a long ways.

"Games are going to be close, you're going to run into hot goalies. You've got to know that every play matters, all over the ice.

"We did a good job this trip, got five of six and we move forward."

To crack the Elite 8, they'll need contributions across the board, stem to stern, top to bottom.

"Being depth guys, your job is to pitch in where need be,'' says Lazar. "We're trying to be a momentum changer. We're not a numbers-driven line. We can't be. People are always on me for my goals and stuff … hey, I'd love to fill the net. Believe me.

"But it's tough to find rhythm with special teams so when you get out there you try and impact the flow of the game as best you can.

"We're very responsible defensively, so we're starting to get some better match-ups, I guess you could say, with the trust the coaching staff has in us.

"Look at the Pittsburgh game. We're down 2-0. As a line, we're like: 'Hey, we need a strong shift here.' We go out and score a goal. And we're back in the game.

"Then we get the big goal in Ottawa.

"Look, we know we're not going to score every game. But whatever we can do to help the team win, however we can make a difference in any way possible, that's our goal each and every night."

The emotional catalyst of the line is drawing ever nearer his 1,000th career game. Sunday, a 5:00 p.m. puck-drop at the Scotiabank Saddledome versus the New York Islanders will leave Stajan five starts shy of the milestone moment.

"Me and Dougie (Hamilton) are always talking about how much time we spend gearing up and gearing down in this business,'' laughs Lazar.

"So 1,000 games … that's a lot of gearing up and gearing down. A lot of hours. A lot of time logged at the rink.

"Staj is such a happy-go-lucky guy, smiling every day at the rink, a great mentor for the young guys.

"So for him, to reach 1,000 games … I think I can safely speak for everybody when I say it'll be pretty cool to be a part of."

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