At the end of the day, the Heritage Classic really was just another game for the Flames, and they approached it like they have the majority of their recent contests--by winning.
The score didn't indicate that this was a game for the ages, but there's no doubt that the experience was enjoyable for all fans, players, and media involved nonetheless. The game was more competitive in the final forty minutes despite the score, as both teams fought to adjust to the weather and ice conditions, which, despite the ice crew's best Zamboni-free efforts, could not be maintained. Seeing your favourite team play outside in a stadium with twice the capacity of the Saddledome is likely a once-in-a-lifetime experience unless you're the Canadiens or Penguins, and the crowd was accordingly raucous despite the sub-zero temperatures.
The Flames completely dominated Montreal in the opening frame, out-shooting them 12-3 early after some pressure from the home side forced the Habs into some early penalty trouble. Rene Bourque scored his 18th of the season on a 5-on-3 with both P.K. Subban and Hal Gill in the box for tripping. The Flames kept the pressure on for the remainder of the period, out-shooting the Canadiens 19-8 after twenty minutes, six of which came off the stick of Bourque, who was already well on his way to his best game in recent memory.
Much like Wednesday's game against the Stars, the middle frame saw the Canadiens tilt the ice in their favour after killing off an early Flames powerplay. Despite the shift in their fortunes, the Flames turned a Montreal powerplay in their favour, generating multiple shorthanded scoring chances before Anton Babchuk scored his ninth of the season on a rare penalty-killing shift. Two minutes later, Bourque put his team up by three, out-waiting Carey Price in a solo effort in front of the Habs' net for his second of the game.
Things would calm down a bit in the final frame as the ice conditions started to look rougher and rougher. Alex Tanguay would round out the scoring, tapping in his 16th of season off a sweet pass by Jarome Iginla halfway through the period. The Canadiens didn't represent any real offensive threat for the remainder of the game, as the Flames did a good job of settling the puck down, taking space away from Montreal's skilled players, and limiting chances in dangerous scoring areas. When shots did get through, Miikka Kiprusoff quickly deflected them, as the ice conditions were more manageable for goalies than skaters, he explained in a post-game interview.
"For goalies, it's easier you know, like if I didn't feel safe to go stop it behind the net I didn't go. There were some strange bounces along the boards...goalies have to challenge more and hope that it's hard to make passes," he said.
As usual, the reserved Finn was reluctant to acknowledge the significance of the fact that he was the first NHL goalie to earn a shutout in an outdoor game, but was quick to emphasize the importance of the two points for his team.
While Kipper was key to the Flames' victory, Rene Bourque was far and away the most impactful player on the ice. Bourque's goals were probably the two most crucial markers of the game, as he put the Flames up 1-0 with his first on the powerplay and likely put the nail in the coffin for Habs with his second tally that gave the home side a 3-0 lead. "I think it was huge," Bourque said of his first goal after the game. "We had a lot of chances early on in that powerplay. And we didn't know how many goals it would take to win this game because of the ice conditions and the atmosphere."
Bourque's eleven shots on goal represented a career-high for the previously dormant winger. "I think that was the most shots I've had probably in my career," he said in a post-game press conference. "I don't know for some reason, the pucks just kept coming to me on my left side. [I was] trying to keep it simple."
Alex Tanguay was another player instrumental in this game; the left-winger scored a goal and an assist against his former team, and while it's no Game Seven, this game isn't something Tanguay will soon forget. "It's not every day that you get to [play] in front of a big stadium like that, in front of that many fans," he told the media after the game. "And for the fans to brave the weather and stay out there for three periods--yesterday we were skating around and we were cold--and those fans stayed out there for three periods, sitting in their seats. It's pretty remarkable."
Tanguay and the Flames won't have that much time to savour the victory, as they get back to the regular season grind Tuesday at home against the Boston Bruins. Boston has been one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference this season with a goal differential of +41, and they're eleven games above .500 away from home. Moreover, they've just added another weapon to their offensive arsenal with the acquisition of Tomas Kaberle, making this game all the more challenging for the Flames.
I should have photos from Saturday up on the site tomorrow and hopefully some audio clips along with Monday's regularly scheduled post.