CALGARY - Calgary's signing of Todd Bertuzzi last July was a lightning rod for controversy, with public opinion on whether he was good or bad for the team split down the middle.
Three games into the NHL season, Bertuzzi already has three goals, fan sentiment is now firmly on his side, and playing alongside Jarome Iginla, the 33-year-old has entrenched himself as one of the Flames most important players.
Bertuzzi's second goal of the game ended up the game-winner Tuesday as Calgary collected its first win of the season, hanging on for a 5-4 victory over the still winless Colorado Avalanche.
Calgary finally won after opening the season with a pair of losses, one in overtime, to the Vancouver Canucks.
"Todd played an excellent game for us, the whole line had jump and you could see that he's recapturing the form that we've seen in the past and that's exciting for our team and our fans," said Flames coach Mike Keenan.
Bertuzzi's goal 11 minutes into the third off an Iginla rebound gave the Flames a 5-3 lead. Iginla ripped a shot from the right wing that goaltender Peter Budaj stopped but the rebound caromed out the other side to Bertuzzi, and he buried into the net.
"With Jarome, how he skates and how he shoots, there's going to be some juicy rebounds around if I'm just patient enough," said Bertuzzi. "It's about being at the right spot at the right time and not being overly aggressive."
Iginla's first goal of the season four minutes earlier had given the Flames a 4-3 lead.
The Avalanche cut its deficit to 5-4 when Ben Guite's 60-foot wrist shot took a weird hop and knuckled past Miikka Kiprusoff at 11:18. However, despite getting a late power play, the Avalanche were unable to tie it.
"You have to give credit to our captain," said Bertuzzi. "He stepped up and fought their tough guy (Cody McCormick), did awesome against him, got a goal and an assist, and turned the game around. That's what leadership is all about and that's why we're moving in the right direction."
Dustin Boyd and Craig Conroy also scored for Calgary (1-1-1). At .500, the notoriously slow-starting Flames are off to their fastest start since 2003-04.
Cody McLeod, John-Michael Liles, and Ryan Smyth rounded out the scoring for Colorado (0-3-0).
"We can't push the panic button or get discouraged," said Avalanche defenceman Adam Foote. "In our first two games, we clearly outplayed the teams and tonight, it seemed like it was going back and forth and both teams were making mistakes and both teams had the heat on them to get this win and we made the last mistake and they were able to capitalize on it".
Calgary outshot the Avalanche 35-29 in a game in which neither goalie played that well once again.
In his three starts, Budaj has now surrendered 13 goals on 74 shots. Kiprusoff has also struggled. He has given up at least four goals in three consecutive starts for just the second time in his career. The first time was during a three-game stretch in December 2005.
A key factor in the game was the Flames power play, which went 3-for-7 after starting the season a league-worst 0-for-13.
"There's been a lot of talk about our power play, which there should be. It wasn't nearly good enough in the first couple games and we've been talking about it, working on it," Iginla said. "Our power play had to step up and tonight, fortunately, we were able to contribute on there and help be a difference."
Colorado's penalty killing has gotten off to a terrible start yielding five power-play goals on 12 chances through the first three games.
"Tonight, we didn't kill all our penalties, that's No. 1," said defenceman Jordan Leopold. "It's been frustrating the first three games, we've played hard and competed but haven't come out with any points."
After the teams combined for five goals in a wild opening 20 minutes, Smyth's tap-in of a Paul Stastny pass was the lone goal of the second tying it 3-3.
Calgary opened the night converting its first two power play chances to open an early 2-0 lead.
Boyd gave Calgary a 1-0 lead at 3:21 knocking a loose puck past Budaj from a mad scramble.
Budaj himself was the lone culprit on the next goal. Mike Cammalleri's shot deflected high up in the air. Camping under it with his glove extended like a baseball outfielder, the puck bounced off the edge of his glove and right into the slot where Bertuzzi promptly fired it into the net at 4:17.
Notes: Iginla got in a fight for the second straight game, this time going with McCormick. He had two fights before collecting his first points with his goal and assist in the third period... On the day of the federal election in Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, along with his 12-year-old son Ben, spent Tuesday morning at the Pengrowth Saddledome watching the Flames practice... Colorado RW Marek Svatos did not play due to an undisclosed injury... Calgary C Matthew Lombardi played in his 300th career NHL game.