RBC CENTER, RALEIGH—Smiles can mean many different things. There are open-mouthed smiles of simple joy, tight-lipped smiles beneath eyes narrowed and foreheads furrowed in disappointment or disapproval, sheepish smiles of someone who just got away with something, and wide-eyed smiles of bafflement with eyebrows raised almost to the hairline.
"That's a game which both coaches need a shower right after. You just do not feel good about yourself, at all," Maurice joked. "Boychuk has a great chance right at the start of the game, and they go down and score. And you wonder: is that the way this game's going to go? And it kind of did for a while—great chances at one end didn't go and then something filthy at the other end. But... [picture that smile here] good for us."
Jussi Jokinen showed great sisu—a Finnish word for the combination of endurance and power—celebrating his return from a six-game absence by scoring twice in regulation, and Jeff Skinner notched the only shootout goal, as Carolina sustained a Flames comeback from a three-goal deficit.
Named to the All-Star Game roster earlier in the day, Eric Staal scored his 21st of the season and Cam Ward stopped 27 shots in regulation and all three in the shootout. Skinner will also participate in the All-Star skills competition in Raleigh at the end of the month.
Fellow All-Star Jarome Iginla scored and added an assist for the Flames. Henrik Karlsson stopped 21 of 22 shots in relief of Miikka Kiprusoff, who lacked sisu altogether, saving only half of the eight shots he faced.
Interconference games can be adventures, as the teams have little familiarity with each other, but they can also provide a benchmark measure of how well a team adjusts on the fly.
After Jay Bouwmeester beat Ward's stick just four minutes in, Skinner fished the puck out of the corner and found Chad LaRose at the dot. Tuomo Ruutu tipped LaRose's shot home to tie the game. Barely a minute later, Iginla finished a give-and-go rush with Alex Tanguay, tucking in his own rebound to put the Flames up 2-1. Olli Jokinen (no relation to Jussi) assisted on both Calgary goals.
It’s hard to find fault with a player who tallies two assists (albeit secondary and fairly incidental) in a period, but Olli Jokinen gave one back on a gutless play with 3:30 left in the first period. Skating across the Canes’ zone, he dove to try to buy an interference call when his hip was brushed. The officials weren’t fooled, and Brandon Sutter took the loose puck the other way, finding Jussi Jokinen in the slot. He roofed the puck to send a tied game to the intermission.
It was easy to see the difference, in the second period, between a hungry young team gunning for a playoff spot and a long-in-the-tooth team already resigned to rebuilding. Only Edmonton trails the Flames in the Western Conference.
Brendan Morrison's slash just eight seconds in gave the Canes a power play. Although the Flames killed the penalty, Erik Cole looped in a backhand pass from Jussi Jokinen along the boards before Morrison could rejoin the play. Carolina turned this trick again, as Staal flicked an unruly puck from out of his feet beneath Kiprusoff five seconds after Ales Kotalik was freed from the penalty box, chasing the netminder. Kiprusoff skated the length of the ice to the visitor's locker room so slowly that it seemed he was scanning the ice for dropped change.
But Carolina treated Karlsson no differently. Jussi Jokinen tipped in a point shot from Tim Gleason to make it 5-2 with just over five minutes left in the frame. And the Canes cruised to a win, right?
Actually, no. Calgary stepped up their forecheck and got a cheap goal before the second intermission to keep the game in reach. Carrying the puck from behind Ward, Ruutu took an ill-advised saunter across the net mouth. Matt Stajan engaged him—some might say hooked him down—and Niklas Hagman fired in the loose puck. And from that point on, the Flames smelled blood.
Curtis Glencross pulled Calgary to within a goal ninety seconds into the third. A minute later, Ian White somehow kept the game tied while Ward was down. Iginla fired a no-look pass to Olli Jokinen in the crease but White closed his shins and deflected the puck to the corner. When the Canes iced the puck, Maurice called his timeout.
Any calmness that the timeout restored was quickly dissipated a few minutes later when Cory Sarich punched Skinner in the face behind the Calgary goal after a whistle. Skinner didn't back down, and LaRose swooped in to choke Sarich from behind with the crook of his elbow. The ensuing scrum resulted in coincidental roughing calls to LaRose and Sarich, but didn't devolve into a full-blown fight.
Tense minutes followed, featuring few scoring chances until Rene Bourque completed Calgary's comeback at the 7:39 mark. Centering the puck for Morrison, Bourque found it loose in the slot after Morrison was felled in front of Ward. A minute later, in a display of uncharacteristic aggression, Skinner was called for boarding Curtis Glencross. Although the hit seemed clean, Glencross scrabbled on his knees for a bit, milking the call. Reminiscent of Jaroslav Spacek's Oscar-worthy acting job when Montreal visited before Christmas, Glencross ably hopped over the boards to his bench once the official's arm went up.
Taking a boarding call in the third period of a tied game might not endear a player to many coaches, but this play was different because Skinner is different. "Take a five, that's fine. You have to protect yourself. I just loved his response to that because he's a skilled offensive brilliant player and he's going to draw more of that as he goes," Maurice said in support of the wunderkind's check. "But now you know that you've got a guy who's not going backwards in a game like that. He's not going to say 'Hey, well, I'll wait till the next one before I get upset' or 'This isn't going to be my game.' He might just run you. And then score the shootout winner." Maurice then flashed that smile again.
Bourque took a slashing call in overtime and Maurice went for it, starting the 4-on-3 power play with four forwards, but they were so shaky with the puck at the points that he quickly restored two defenders to the mix. Jokinen nearly capped a hat trick in the closing seconds of overtime when Joni Pitkanen found him alone in the slot, but Karlsson's miraculous, writhing save—almost doing the Worm in the crease—sent the game to penalty shots.
Skating second, Skinner beat Karlsson's glove as he came diagonally across the crease and shot against his body. Ward was aggressive on all three Calgary skaters, starting each sequence from well out in the slot and slowly backing into the crease as the shooter approached. His save on Tanguay was beautiful, luring the shot by showing the five-hole and then taking it away. After Ward stifled a Hagman effort, the Canes poured of the bench to bear-hug their All-Star goalie.
And they were all flashing smiles.