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Bourque, Kiprusoff lead Flames to 'Classic' win

by Dave Lozo
CALGARY -- The Calgary Flames had every excuse in the world Sunday to get away from what has made them successful during the past two months.

There were all the distractions in the days leading up to the 2011 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic.

There was the unfamiliar setting, an outdoor rink at McMahon Stadium.

There was the frigid game time temperature of -8.6 degrees Celsius (16.5 Fahrenheit) which was even colder when factoring in the wind chill and which fell throughout the game.

There was the ice, which was causing pucks to bounce more often than they would in the comfy confines of the Scotiabank Saddledome.

None of that mattered to the Flames, who didn't let any of those obstacles stand in their way as they defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-0 in front of 41,022 fans who braved the elements for the historic game.

"I thought we played well. It's a real compliment to the guys for holding the focus the way they have the last few days," said Flames coach Brent Sutter, who donned a fedora in the spirit of the throwback uniforms. "Because a situation like this can get away on you just with everything else that's going on. They were very professional and very focused and they know the situation our team is in."

The Flames have scrapped their way back into the playoff race thanks to their sensational 17-4-5 stretch since Dec. 23. They are 11-1-2 in their last 14 games and vaulted from 10th to sixth in the Western Conference with Sunday's win.

The players will never forget the pageantry and spectacle of playing in an outdoor game -- the massive number of fans, the pregame affair that included a flyover and ceremonial puck drop featuring legends Bob Gainey of the Canadiens and Lanny McDonald of the Flames.

But at the end of the day, the two points might be what the players cherish most.

"It was definitely something where we wanted to find that balance between enjoying it and our family and friends and the city being excited, but being ready come game time," said captain Jarome Iginla, who had an assist. "But it felt good. In the standings, we need it."

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to look at the standings and figure out what's going on," said Curtis Glencross, who extended his points streak to seven games with an assist. "We came in here and everyone was business-like."

The Flames have been getting contributions from just about everyone in their lineup the past two months, and it was more of the same Sunday.

Rene Bourque, who had just 4 goals in his past 28 games, scored twice. Anton Babchuk's shorthanded goal midway through the second period was only his sixth in 44 games with the Flames. Alex Tanguay has been a consistent contributor all season, but his 16th goal of the season during a third-period power play was merely icing on the cake.

Goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff was the undisputed first star of the game, making an outdoor game record 39 saves to become the first goalie to earn a shutout in either the Heritage or Winter Classic.

"We've been working, and it's been all different guys seem to be having really good nights on all different nights," Iginla said. "It feels good."

Bourque will be remembered as the most dominant skater on either team. Beyond his two goals, he had a career-high and outdoor game record 11 shots, shattering the previous record of 7 held by Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk and Pittsburgh's Kris Letang.

The 29-year-old left wing who honed his game playing on frozen ponds in Lac La Biche, Alberta, gave the Flames a 1-0 lead at 8:09 of the first period when he converted a gorgeous pass from Tanguay during a 5-on-3 power play.

After Babchuk ripped a one-timer past Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (33 saves) midway through the second period, Bourque struck for a beauty of a goal 2:02 later when he controlled a bouncing puck and beat Price 1-on-1 with a quick backhand shot to put the Flames up 3-0.

"I think it's right up there with playing your first game," said Bourque, who reached the 100-goal plateau Sunday. "The first goal happened so fast, but I kind of got to enjoy the second one more. I knew I was going to get a good chance. To score my 100th goal like that was pretty fun."

Kiprusoff was at his best in the second period when the Flames blew the game open. He made 21 saves, the most ever in one period during an outdoor game.

"Yeah, he played great," Canadiens defenseman James Wisniewski said. "You can't take anything away from them. They played great, they were forechecking hard, they were skating. They capitalized on two power-play opportunities."

For some players like Flames forward Brendan Morrison, who grew up in British Columbia and only played in a handful of outdoor games as a child, Sunday's chilly experience was a true rarity.

"Winning sure heats it up," Morrison said of the cold conditions. "I just tried to take it in as I was walking out. I tried to take a look around the stadium, kind of soak up the atmosphere. I don't know if I'll get a chance at another one of these. It was a lot of fun."

The Canadiens have now lost six of seven (1-4-2) but aren't in any danger of slipping out of the top 8 in the Eastern Conference anytime soon. They are in sixth place and hold a nine-point lead on the ninth-place Buffalo Sabres.

For the Flames, it was the best of all worlds. Two points, one special experience, and no problem playing on a mammoth stage with the eyes of Canada upon them.

"We did a good job right from the get-go, and I think part of that is because we are a veteran team. It didn't faze us at all," said Morrison, who had two assists. "The biggest thing is we won and we moved up in the standings."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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