So much history between the two teams ...
1989: The Calgary Flames capture their one-and-only Stanley Cup in Montreal against the Canadiens, the only team ever to win the championship as a visiting team on Forum ice. Gilmour, MacInnis, Nieuwendyk, Loob, Roberts, McDonald, Vernon, Mullen, Otto. An endless parade of greats and near greats on that Flames team.
1986: The Montreal Canadiens win the Stanley Cup in Calgary, the only time the Stanley Cup has ever been handed out at the Saddledome. Patrick Roy, in his rookie year, talking to goalposts. Bobby Smith, Mats Nasluuuuund, Rick Green, Craig Ludwig, and those crazy oversized shin pads.
Those were the days - when Canadian teams regularly won championships and a showdown between Calgary and Montreal might qualify as the NHL’s game of the year.
Then came Tuesday night, when two reasonable facsimiles of the Flames and the Canadiens took to the ice at the Scotiabank Saddledome for a far-less anticipated matchup, featuring the No. 11 team in the West (Calgary) and No. 15 in the East (Montreal).
They couldn’t both lose, could they?
In the end, no.
It was the Flames - behind first-period goals by David Moss and Jarome Iginla - that held on for a crazy 5-4 victory over the Canadiens, ending a slump that had seen them win just once in the previous seven games (1-3-3). For Montreal, the losing beat goes on. Sinking fast in the standings, they are now nicely positioning themselves for a lottery pick, after having lost seven of their past eight games.
The Canadiens haven’t had a top-five draft choice since they took goaltender Carey Price in 2005, and it was only Price’s steady work early that kept it close for a while. Calgary had a 18-9 edge in first-period shots and Price was left scrambling around his crease the whole time, pretty much left to his own devices by a defence corps that seemed constantly missing in action. Andrei Markov can’t come back soon enough.
Iginla, heating up the way he usually does in March, led the way for Calgary, with a pair of goals, giving him 27 on the year and four in four games this month. David Moss, with his first since Oct. 13 - also against Montreal - along with Mark Giordano and Curtis Glencross also scored for Calgary.
“It’s not pretty, but it’s still an important win for us,” said Iginla. “It breaks a bad streak at home and it’s something to build on. All the guys played very hard.”
Giordano’s goal was the big one, snapping a 2-2 tie 13:44 into the second period after the Canadiens had tied the game on a weak goal by Max Pacioretty that caromed in off Miikka Kiprusoff’s catching hand from a sharp angle.
Tomas Plekenac, Lars Eller and Pacioretty again, with his 28th, accounted for the rest of Montreal’s scoring. Eller’s goal came in the third period, through a screen, from his knees, a highlight-of-the-night candidate if there ever was one, and it sparked the Habs’ second rally of the night. Then Pacioretty’s second goal of the game, with 7:54 to go in the third, drew the Canadiens to within one, which made for a few nervous moments on the Flames’ bench as time wound down.
“When it’s that close at the end, maybe there’s a little bit (of relief) when the final buzzer goes,” said Iginla, who saw his team ice the puck three times in the dying seconds, trying to preserve the victory. “Sometimes, when they’re not going your way, you just gotta find a way to get it done, and we did that tonight. I thought they got some momentum, after we got up 5-2, but overall, I thought guys all played very hard. Our young guys came out, played a lot of minutes, played physical, played with energy. We’ll take that game.”
The loss was Price’s 26th of the season, most in the NHL.
At one point in the opening period, with Calgary up 2-0 already, Josh Gorges turned over the puck at the Flames’ blue line and Alex Tanguay beat Price cleanly, only to rattle his shot off the post. If Calgary had scored there, it might have been a rout. As it was, they needed to buckle down in the second after Kiprusoff’s gaffe on Pacioretty, and they did. It was as if the Flames collectively decided to bail him out after Kiprusoff had repeatedly bailed them out all season.
The Flames were forced to conjure up a revamped line-up, thanks to injuries that knocked three regular forwards (Michael Cammalleri, Blake Comeau and Lance Bouma) out of the line-up. Their solution was to promote an entire line from their AHL affiliate in Abbotsford (Greg Nemisz, Krys Kolanos and Guillaume Desbiens). It meant former Toronto Maple Leaf centre Matt Stajan was promoted from the fourth line to the first, drawing in alongside Iginla and Tanguay, as coach Brent Sutter did the best he could with the players at his disposal.
Sutter was left to scramble further when winger Tim Jackman left the game in the second period with an undisclosed upper-body injury.
There was a little bit of a track meet quality to the game, far more open than likely either coach wanted, although it was entertaining on some levels because of its old-school qualities - teams trading chances, frequent odd-man rushes both ways. Just why the Flames were trading chances in the third period, after holding a three-goal lead at one point, is anybody’s guess, but it made for an interesting finish.
“This is something that’s escaped us all year - and that’s putting together a full 60 minutes,” said Canadiens’ defenceman Chris Campoli. “I think the team that went out there in the third period, the team that played with such desperation, the will, the forecheck, imposing what we wanted to do on the other team, it really showed because we put them on their heels - and we have to find a way of doing that for 60 minutes.”
Calgary failed to make up any ground on 10th-place Colorado in the Western Conference standings, however, with the Avalanche rolling over the fading Minnesota Wild. The Flames’ next game is Friday against the visiting Winnipeg Jets. Montreal’s road trip continues with a date against the Oilers in Edmonton Thursday night.