After a road trip that saw them blow leads in Washington and Atlanta, the Calgary Flames
couldn’t afford another slip-up. So when Daymond Langkow
and Craig Conroy
scored in the first period to give the Flames an early 2-0 lead over the Colorado Avalanche
on Thursday night, they knew what they had to do.
“These are tough playoff games," Calgary coach Mike Keenan said after the Flames shut down the Avs in a 2-1 victory at Pengrowth Saddledome, a welcome outcome after a 1-3 road trip. "When we can shut a team down, it shows that we've got a real strong committed defensive effort. For playoff competition, that's what you need."
The victory kept the Flames even with Vancouver in the wild Northwest Division race, one point behind division-leading Minnesota — which visits the Canucks on Friday and comes to Calgary on Saturday.
The loss kept the Avs three points behind Minnesota. Colorado still has the eighth and final playoff berth in the West, four points ahead of Nashville and two behind Calgary and Vancouver.
“This was huge for us," said Calgary forward Matthew Lombardi. "We're chasing Minnesota right now and those guys are doing the same. It's a good start in the right direction. We've got to keep going and keep looking forward to the next game."
Though he didn’t register a point, Lombardi had a hand in both Calgary goals. The speedy penalty-killer forced the Avalanche into a pair of hooking penalties to break up shorthanded rushes, and the Flames’ struggling power play, which entered the game 29th at home, connected twice.
"That's what it's about. We're drawing penalties and our power play goes out there and scores both times," Lombardi said.
After Ruslan Salei had to haul down Lombardi, Langkow opened the scoring at 8:19 with an easy tap-in. Jarome Iginla drove to the net and took a shot that Jose Theodore stopped but could not control, and Langkow had a wide-open net.
Jeff Finger’s takedown of Lombardi led to another Calgary advantage, and Conroy made it 2-0 at 14:38, again by knocking in a rebound, this time after Theodore had stopped Dion Phaneuf’s shot from the blue line.
“He can draw penalties back for us because of his speed," Keenan said of Lombardi. "He demonstrated that well tonight and that's what his speed means.”
Unlike the losses in Washington and Atlanta when the Flames didn’t tighten up after taking a lead, they kept the Avs from generating any offense. Calgary limited the Avalanche to just 10 shots through the first 40 minutes.
“They played their typical game," said Theodore, who had 26 stops. "They got the lead and then kind of closed the middle. We didn't have too much chances."
Colorado finally got on the board when Ben Guite knocked in a loose puck at 5:52 of the third period with Ryan Smyth parked in front of Miikka Kiprusoff.
But the Flames reverted to their tight-checking game, and until a bit of pressure in the final 30 seconds, Colorado didn't really come close to tying the game. Kiprusoff wound up having to make only 15 saves.
“We didn’t play with the puck enough, and we didn’t generate enough turnovers and we weren’t strong when we did have the puck,” Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville said. “They were back in a defensive posture all game, and it wasn’t easy to penetrate.”
Colorado wraps up its three-game road trip Saturday night in Edmonton. The Avs hope for the return of Peter Forsberg (groin) and Paul Stastny (flu), who sat out against Calgary.
"We have to come out a lot harder than we did today," Guite said. "They came out hard and we didn't match it. We just sat there watching and the next thing we knew we were down 2-0."