The Flames got a rare break in their schedule tonight with a game against the lagging Blue Jackets at home, but Columbus gave the home side all they could handle in this one, as the Flames escaped with a narrow 4-3 victory to jump into fifth place in the Western Conference.
The first period opened with a quick goal from waiver-wire acquisition Craig Rivet just 3:45 in, but Olli Jokinen responded for the Flames under five minutes later to tie the game with his 14th of the season. Shortly thereafter, Jarome Iginla put the Flames up by one when his shot took a strange hop over Steve Mason and across the goal line. The Flames entered the first intermission with a slim lead despite being out-played in the opening twenty minutes.
A quick marker that bounced in off Antione Vermette and beat Kiprusoff tied the game for the Jackets early in the the second, but Vermette quickly went from hero to villain after being assessed a double-minor for high-sticking shortly thereafter. The Flames would score twice on the extended man-advantage, with Rene Bourque restoring the home side's lead before Curtis Glencross extended it to two goals at 10:09. After Kiprusoff stopped a penalty shot awarded to the Blue Jackets after Mark Giordano got called for hooking on a breakaway, the Flames would enjoy a late powerplay with Jared Boll serving a too-many men penalty, but could do no further damage with the extra man, and had to settle for a two-goal lead after forty.
In the final frame, the Flames went into what can only be described as a full defensive shell. The home side got into some penalty trouble right off the bat, with Tom Kostopoulos sent off for high-sticking just 19-seconds in and Matt Stajan after him, but the Jackets could not convert. Jan Hejda would score his third of the season to bring Columbus within one on a play that appeared to be offside, giving his team a chance to tied the game upon being awarded a second penalty shot when the officials deemed that Anton Babchuk threw his stick at the puck in an attempt to separate it from Vermette. Thankfully for the Flames, the shot was deflected by Kiprusoff, and after killing off another penalty shortly thereafter, they would escape the Jackets' third period onslaught for their 34th victory of the season.
As suspected, the Brent Sutter's line adjustments with both Morrison and Backlund, who was a late scratch with the flu, out of the lineup didn't last long before the shuffling ensued. David Moss saw some time between Iginla and Alex Tanguay on the first line while the latter also played alongside Jokinen at times. With both Robyn Regehr and Steve Staios apparently battling health issues, Brett Carson drew into the lineup briefly for his debut with the Flames, playing just 4:11 while Fredrik Modin saw just under 6:30 of ice time in his first game with the club since being acquired on Monday.
Rene Bourque continued his point streak tonight with a goal and an assist, playing the most of any Flames forward in this game at 23:32. Despite this, his underlying stats still prove that he is struggling to drive results without the help of a noted tough-minutes player such as Daymond Langkow, finishing in the red in both Corsi and scoring chances. Somehow, Bourque saw more offensive zone starts than any forward except Jokinen and Curtis Glencross while the likes of Jarome Iginla, David Moss, and Alex Tanguay got buried in the defensive zone--and Moss still managed to come out on top in both possession and scoring chance differential!
Iginla, Moss, Tanguay, Glencross, and Jokinen all saw 20+ minutes of ice time in this game in the absence of Backlund and Morrison, while at the other end of the spectrum, Niklas Hagman and Modin both played under seven minutes. On defence, Cory Sarich and Steve Staios played the least of all defenders after Carson, while Regehr still saw the second-most minutes after Jay Bouwmeester despite battling an unknown ailment.
After falling down early, the Flames capitalized on their opportunities with the man advantage and nullified the Blue Jackets' attempts at the same in order to escape with two points they probably didn't deserve. With 37 stops in tonight's contest, Miikka Kiprusoff continues to do everything he can to help his club win hockey games, but he won't be able to steal many more games if his team continues abiding by this worrying trend of being largely out-played--and against middling competition to boot.
The team will enjoy an off-day tomorrow before taking on a team that has fallen on hard times lately in the Nashville Predators at home on Sunday.