Monday, March 19, 2012

Flames salvage point against lowly Blue Jackets

With his right knee and left shoulder all bandaged up, Blake Comeau looked every bit the poster child Sunday night for the faltering Calgary Flames.

“I think we all know in this locker-room that it’s unacceptable,” Comeau said dejectedly. “Especially at this time of year.

“But the last thing you want to do is dwell on it. We need to learn from what we did.”

And what the Flames didn’t do in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Scotiabank Saddledome.

For the second time in one weekend, the Flames reported to the office for a so-called “must win game” in this wild Western Conference playoff race.

For the second time in one weekend, the Flames showed up in body, but not mind for the first period against a bottom-feeding team.

On this night, they battled back from a brutal start to secure a single point.

Keep in mind: the Jackets are mired in 30th place in the National Hockey League. And the loss comes just two nights after the Flames fell 3-1 to the 29th-place Edmonton Oilers.

The obituary for the current edition of the Flames is likely weeks — hey, perhaps even months — away from publication. But we’ll find out soon enough whether this weekend proved the coup de grace for a team clawing for playoff position.

“We’re still right there,” said Flames head coach Brent Sutter. “It’s not death yet.”

“We know we need points. We know one point isn’t going to cut it for us.”

Cam Atkinson scored in the fourth round of the shootout to seal the victory for the weary travellers, who played the Vancouver Canucks Saturday night.

The defeat marks the eighth loss off the year in the shootout for the Flames.

“Shootouts just aren’t going our way right now,” said Flames forward Tom Kostopoulos. “We’ve just got to focus on the way we played in the second and third and take that into Colorado.

“It’s a huge game for us.”

The same can be said for Sunday night. For some bizarre reason, the Flames took 10 minutes to register a single shot against goalie Curtis Sanford.

To the surprise of no one watching, the Jackets hit the scoreboard first at 13:03, with defenceman Nikita Nikitin doing the honours.

Perhaps stiff from standing around, Sanford collapsed in a heap with five minutes to go in the first period. The veteran Columbus netminder could put no weight on his foot as he skated gingerly to the bench.

Enter Steve Mason to further complicate the night for the Flames. On what was supposed to be a night off, he turned away 29 shots to steal two points almost single-handedly.

“We played the second and third hard, we hit like five posts,” said centre Matt Stajan. “We didn’t get any bounces and that’s the difference.

“Their goalie came in and you have to give Mason credit.”

One of those nights for the Flames turned even darker on the out-of-town scoreboard. Raffi Torres scored with 2:23 left in regulation to send the Phoenix Coyotes into overtime against the Edmonton Oilers. The Coyotes won in the skills completion. The Flames did not. As a result, Calgary is in 11th spot in the Western Conference.

The good news? Well, the Flames are still only two points back of the seventh-place Coyotes and eighth-place Colorado Avalanche.

“We still control our own fate here,” Stajan said. “We play all the teams we are battling with and we go from there.”

Stajan finally solved Mason at 8:34 of the third period on a behind-the-net feed from Glencross. In the shootout, the Columbus netminder proved perfect in stopping Alex Tanguay, Olli Jokinen and Curtis Glencross.

Miikka Kiprusoff stopped Rick Nash, Mark Letestu and Jack Johnson before Atkinson played the hero.

“It’s tough to give up that point,” Comeau said. “But at this time of year, you have to move on and get ready for your next game.”

The Flames head out on the road for a three-game road swing through Colorado, Minnesota and Dallas.