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Calgary Flames vs. Minnesota Wild

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GAME: Calgary Flames (42-30-7-3) at Minnesota Wild (30-29-20-3).

TIME: Wednesday, 8:00 p.m. EDT.

In the 2003-04 season Jarome Iginla helped lead the Calgary Flames all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they came up short. This season, Iginla may have the support he needs to lead Calgary to a Stanley Cup victory.

The Flames begin defense of their Western Conference title when they visit the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center.

Iginla tied for the league lead in 2003-04 with 41 goals, and added 32 assists as the Flames advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals before losing in seven games to Tampa Bay.

Knowing it was imperative to keep Iginla, one of the game's best players, in Calgary, the Flames signed him to a three-year, $21-million deal on Aug. 3.

"I think quite honestly we've signed the No. 1 free agent in the market. I don't think there's anybody else that compares," Flames coach and general manager Darryl Sutter said.

The star right winger believes he made the right decision by re-signing with the Flames.

"We made a choice," Iginla said. "We want to be here in Calgary. We believe in what the team is doing. We've been so blessed to be part of this community and we want to win here.

"I truly believe a lot of players, when they're free agents, look at where they can have a legitimate chance to win. And right now I'm just so excited. I believe this is the place and I can't wait to get playing."

By signing Tony Amonte and Darren McCarty as free agents, the Flames' offense, which scored 200 goals in 2003-04, should be better this season. Daymon Langkow, acquired from Phoenix on Aug. 26, 2004, should also be a key contributor.

Amonte had 20 goals and 33 assists for Philadelphia in 2003-04, while McCarty brings character, toughness and the occasional goal.

The Flames also improved an already strong defense with the signing of Roman Hamrlik, who has been a consistent point producer since being drafted first overall by Tampa Bay in 1992. Hamrlik had seven goals and 22 assists with the New York Islanders in 2003-04.

With the new additions, the Flames should improve the league's 29th-ranked power play from 2003-04.

"The question is how quickly our chemistry in the room comes together with the new guys," Iginla said. "(In 2003-04), we were the tightest group I ever played on. But the core of the team is back and we're even hungrier now."

Perhaps the biggest reason for Calgary's success in 2003-04 was goaltender Miika Kiprusoff, who solidified himself as one of the league's best. He was 24-10-4 with a 1.70 goals-against average in 38 regular-season games. Kiprusoff was just as good in the playoffs, going 15-11 with a 1.85 GAA with five shutouts in 26 contests.

Despite making very few changes, Minnesota hopes for a better season after finishing last in the Northwest Division in 2003-04.

"For the Wild, our approach has been the same as it was before, and that's developing players," general manager Doug Risebrough said. "You have to develop players; especially with the way this new 1/8collective bargaining 3/8 agreement is structured."

With an average age of just over 26-years-old per player, the Wild will have a very young team this season. However, Minnesota is confident that its veteran goalies, Dwayne Roloson and Manny Fernandez, can hold the team together.

"We've got the best one-two punch in the NHL," said center Wes Walz.

Roloson posted a 1.88 goal-against average in the 2003-04 season, but was alternated with Fernandez in coach Jacques Lemaire's system.

"It's the same every year. We're not trying to get the secret out, and we're not trying to figure out what they're going to do," Fernandez said. "I think we've always been ready, me and Roli, just waiting until we get the nod.

"We always know the guy on the bench can also play. It's been a good rivalry, and there's nothing against him."

Minnesota's key player is right wing Marian Gaborik, who slumped to 18 goals and 22 assists in 65 games in 2003-04 following back-to-back 30-goal seasons. He has been bothered by a groin injury, and is not expected to play Wednesday.

2003-04 STANDINGS: Flames - 94 points, 3rd place, 7 PB, Northwest Division. Wild - 83 points, 5th place, 18 PB, Northwest Division.

2003-04 TEAM LEADERS: Flames - Iginla, 41 goals and 73 points; Craig Conroy, 39 assists; Krzysztof Oliwa, 247 PIM. Wild - Alexandre Daigle, 20 goals and 51 points; Andrew Brunette, 34 assists; Matt Johnson, 177 PIM.

2003-04 SPECIAL TEAMS: Flames - Power play: 12.1 percent (47 for 389), 29 in NHL. Penalty killing: 83.3 percent (324 for 389), 16. Wild - Power play: 14.2 percent (52 for 366), 23. Penalty killing: 86 percent (265 for 308), 4.

2003-04 GOALTENDERS: Flames - Kiprusoff (24-10-4, 4 SO, 1.70 GAA); Jamie McLennan (12-9-3, 4, 2.20). Wild - Roloson (19-18-11, 5, 1.88); Fernandez (11-14-9, 2, 2.49).

2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Flames, 3-2-1.

LAST MEETING: Feb. 15; Flames, 2-1. At Minnesota, Iginla scored a power-play goal seconds before the close of the first period to lead the Flames.

2003-04 ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Flames - 21-16-2-2 on the road; Wild - 19-13-7-2 at home.


Associated Press
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