So the Calgary Flames wore "vintage" uniforms for Sunday's Heritage Classic that hearkened back to a past they never had?
Well, it was an appropriate gesture on one important level. The outdoor ice at McMahon Stadium was so bumpy and brittle, and the puck so skittish as it hopped and skipped in every direction, the game looked as if it came right off the NHL Classic Network.
It was played at three-quarter speed, with both teams so intent on not making an error mishandling the puck that not much threatened to crack the highlight reels during the three hours or so it took the Flames to record a workmanlike 4-0 victory over the visiting Montreal Canadiens.
So mission accomplished from Calgary's perspective: Two more points in the standings, elevating them to 70 overall in the tight Western Conference playoff race and temporarily anyway, into a tie for fifth place with Nashville, though the Predators hold two games in hand.
Officially, the temperature at game time was -8.6C and it dropped gradually as the afternoon turned into evening; as the sun dropped below the horizon and darkness settled over McMahon, creating an eerie light for the third period.
By then, of course, it was all but settled. Calgary broke open a close game with two second-period goals and from there, as defenceman Steve Staois so aptly put it, they were intent on "keeping it simple and trying to play the game in straight lines."
It wouldn't win any artistic awards, but that wasn't the point. They wanted to make sure they escaped with no injuries - remember Sidney Crosby's mishap in the New Year's Day Winter Classic vs. the Washington Capitals - and keep the momentum of their recent strong play going. Calgary is now 17-4-5 in its past 26 games, a period of time when the primary key to their success has been far more balanced scoring than in the past.
For Sunday's game, it was Rene Bourque of Lac La Biche, Alta. that made the biggest impact. Bourque knows something about playing in the cold: His hometown is three hours north of Edmonton and last week, he was recalling an outdoor ice experience as a boy that featured shooting a puck straight through the windshield of a car parked rink side, for which he received some parental grief.
Bourque was an integral scorer for the Flames early on, but he had fallen into a deep, almost three-month long funk, contributing only four goals in his past 28 games - one of the few disappointments in a stretch when most everything went right for Calgary.
But yesterday, he was the difference-maker offensively, scoring twice in the game. It was his second goal, with 5:14 to go in the middle period, that put the game out of reach. Nicely settling down a bouncing puck by the left boards, he drove to the net and slipped it past goaltender Carey Price, demonstrating a deft bit of eye-to-hand co-ordination in the process.
Aesthetically, it was about what you'd expect from a game where the ice crew didn't dare use the Zamboni for the between-period floods, fearing that the weight of the machines would damage the ice sheet even further. Instead, ice maker Dan Craig's merry men tended to it in the old-fashioned way - scraping the ice with shovels and then spraying it down with a hose.
There were the odd ice-related mishaps - Max Pacioretty tripped over the blue line in the opening period, catching his skate in a rut - but mostly, the players proceeded far more cautiously than they would in a more traditional NHL regular-season game. Body contact in the bitter cold was limited; and most of the shot blocks looked accidental, except for the 39 that Miikka Kiprusoff stopped to earn his fourth shutout of the season.
Kiprusoff hails from one of the warmest parts of Finland, but he had a long history of playing outdoors too - and shrugged off the elements with his usual stoicism. It was a performance that left coach Brent Sutter largely satisfied. His team scored twice on the power play, once shorthanded, and by the time the sun had set over McMahon and the fans started filing to the exits, had badly outclassed the visiting Canadiens, who are off to Vancouver to try and make amends.
A classic? No. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But for what was, a game played under less-than-ideal conditions, one that they may remember for a good long time.Report Typo/Error