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Giordano returns, leads Flames past Coyotes

by Aaron Vickers

CALGARY -- When you're among the top-15 players in ice time in the NHL, it's tough to ease back into the lineup after missing 18 straight games.

On Wednesday night, Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano made it look as though he'd been playing all along.

In his first game since Oct. 21, Giordano had a goal and an assist and the Flames scored four unanswered goals in a 4-1 victory against the Phoenix Coyotes at Scotiabank Saddledome.

Giordano was averaging over 25 minutes of ice time and had nine points in eight games before he broke his ankle in a game during a 3-2 victory against the Los Angeles Kings. TJ Brodie, Mikael Backlund and Lee Stempniak scored to help the Flames to back-to-back wins for the second time this season.

"It felt pretty good," Giordano said. "Your adrenaline gets going pretty quick. I really didn't feel my ankle at all, so that's a great sign.

"My wind and all that, I tried to keep it short all night and not over-extend myself out there, but it felt pretty good. Reacting sometimes was a bit slow I thought, but for the most part, we worked pretty hard with [strength and conditioning coach] Rich [Hesketh] in the gym and he does a good job of getting us ready."

Keith Yandle replied for the Coyotes, who lost for the second time in 15 games when scoring first.

"You can't say they're lucky," Yandle said. "They work hard for them. They put in their effort tonight. It's something we didn't get the bounces tonight, but hopefully we can get them the next game."

Flames goalie Karri Ramo made 29 saves for the win; he made back-to-back starts for the first time since late October.

"Obviously when we win, you feel good," Ramo said. "It was a while that I didn't see a game, but I just have to go into every game and play game-by-game and not think about the situation too much or what's going to happen. Just try to play game and enjoy it."

Escaping with a 1-1 tie after mustering three shots in the opening 20 minutes, Calgary broke through in the second.

After gaining the Coyotes' zone, Jiri Hudler dished a cross-ice feed that Backlund was able to knuckle over the shoulder of Coyotes goalie Thomas Greiss and under the crossbar at 5:48 to give the Flames a 2-1 lead. The goal was Backlund's first since Oct. 19 against the Kings, a span of 19 games.

Giordano one-timed a feed from Brodie that deflected off Antoine Vermette's stick and behind Greiss to put the Flames up 3-1 at 11:46.

"Scoring always feels great," Giordano said. "Obviously that one was a bit lucky going off the stick, but it was a great feeling and I thought after that for the rest of the game we played a really solid game."

Calgary's penalty kill went to work in the third. Entering the game with a 90-percent kill rate on home ice, Matt Stajan poked the puck by Yandle at the blue line before going in 2-on-1 with Stempniak and feeding the former Coyotes forward for a tap-in to push Calgary's lead to three at 2:44.

The goal was the Flames' League-leading sixth shorthanded goal of the season, equaling their total over 48 games last season.

Fans rose to their feet seven minutes into the game to honor forces in attendance on the Canadian Armed Forces Appreciation Night. The final celebration came after the final buzzer, when the team gathered with the military personnel.

Phoenix got on the scoreboard first when Yandle slid down from the point, took a pass from Shane Doan and fired a shot that skipped off Chris Butler and beat Ramo short side to give Phoenix a 1-0 lead 4:47 into the game.

It took Calgary 11:09 to record their first shot on Greiss. The Flames made good on their third in the dying seconds of the period.

Stajan tried to center the puck to Stempniak in the slot, but Jeff Halpern checked the Flames forward and the puck slid through the slot to Brodie at the point. Brodie ripped his third of the season off Coyotes defenseman David Schlemko over Greiss' glove with 7.6 seconds remaining in the first to tie the game 1-1.

"We came out, we played a really good first period, got unlucky goal at the end of the first period, probably gave them some momentum," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "We couldn't get it back. We had lots of pucks on the net, lots of opportunities. That's the way it goes sometimes. The harder we tried, the less pucks found the back of the net and they seemed to capitalize on every break they got."

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