Leland Irving earned his first career NHL win in style by robbing last year's scoring champion with a game-saving stop.
Irving stopped 29 shots Friday, including a brilliant late save on Daniel Sedin, as the Calgary Flames beat the Vancouver Canucks 3-1 before a disappointed sellout crowd of 18,890 at Rogers Arena.
“It feels like it's sinking in already,” said Irving, all smiles while answering reporters' questions. “It was pretty exciting to come into the room and have the excitement of all my teammates cheering and being so happy for me.”
Irving preserved the win with a diving save off Sedin with one minute left to play before Olli Jokinen scored an insurance goal into an empty net.
“The first shot came through traffic and off my pad right to him,” Irving said. “I just pushed as hard as I could to get over and I was able to get my arm on it. It was big.”
Curtis Glencross and Mikael Backlund also scored for Calgary.
The Flames (17-15-4) posted their third straight win, while the Canucks (21-12-2) lost for only the fourth time in their past 16 games.
Irving, a 23-year-old Swan Hills, Alta., native, made only his second NHL start after an earlier call-up this month from Abbotsford of the American Hockey League. He was brought in after regular backup Henrik Karlsson suffered a knee injury in the Flames' last visit to Vancouver.
“We didn't make his life very difficult,” said Vancouver winger Mason Raymond.
Admitting to some nerves, Irving said he felt comfortable in a place that has been good to him. The former Everett Silvertips star often excelled here against the Vancouver Giants during his junior days, and he was picked by the Flames in the first round (26th overall) of the NHL entry draft when the Canucks hosted it in 2006.
“I don't know what it is about this city,” he said. “I think I got a win in the Summit Series here and my first NHL win. It's pretty special.”
Irving was leading the AHL goaltenders in games played (23), wins (15) and shutouts (three) before his promotion. But he has had to adjust to the backup role behind regular Flames starter Miikka Kiprusoff.
Irving helped the Flames win for only the third time in their last 13 meetings with the Canucks.
“He was very poised,” said Flames coach Brent Sutter. “A couple saves he made in the last two-and-a-half, three minutes were obviously huge. He was very much under control.”
Dan Hamhuis scored for the Canucks. All goals came in the third period.
Calgary outshot the Canucks 31-30 after enjoying a decisive edge in the first two period. The Canucks outshot the Flames 17-7 in the third.
“How did I see that one?” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault asked rhetorically. “We were all there. We all saw it. We were just terrible. There's no other way to put it. I'm shocked. I expected a lot more.”
The game got off to an ornery start as Vancouver's Kevin Bieksa fought Calgary's Tom Kostopoulos three seconds after the opening face-off. Kostopoulos suffered a cut near his left eye as Bieksa landed his first punch. They renewed their hostilities after fighting each other last January.
The fight didn't spark the Canucks though. Calgary dominated the early play and Vancouver did not get a shot until Chris Higgins put a soft backhand on net with just under six minutes gone.
The Flames outshot the Canucks 13-6 in the first period and 11-7 in the second, but could not beat Roberto Luongo. He foiled Paul Byron on a breakaway in the first four minutes and stopped Jokinen and Glencross on back-to-back shots less than two minutes later.
Glencross finally opened the scoring 2:36 into the third period as he dashed into the slot and one-timed Jarome Iginla's pass from corner. Iginla won a battle for the puck with Hamhuis and then slid the puck behind Bieksa as he tried to block the pass.
Irving was forced to make several tough saves through most of the third as the Canucks picked up the pace. Backlund put the Flames ahead 2-0 at 14:08 after scooping up a blocked puck and beating Luongo before he could get set.
Hamhuis pulled Vancouver within a goal at 16:59 as he clanked in a wrist shot off the post before Jokinen's empty-netter sealed the Calgary win.
“It's something else seeing a goalie like Roberto Luongo stand on his head at the other end,” said Irving. “These are some really cool memories that I will never forget.”
Notes: Calgary played without high-scoring winger Alex Tanguay, who missed his second game with an undisclosed upper-body injury. ... Sutter coached his 200th game with the Flames. ... Vancouver D Keith Ballard missed his third straight game. He declared himself ready to go Friday morning after missing the previous two games with back spasms. But Vigneault decided to keep Alex Sulzer in the lineup instead. Sulzer played his third game in a row after sitting out 18 as a healthy scratch. D Alex Edler also played after his back seized up following Wednesday's win over Detroit. ... Flames winger Rene Bourque returned to Calgary's lineup after he was suspended two games by the NHL for leaving his feet when delivering a hit on Chicago defenceman Brent Seabrook.
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