It was in the air... You could feel the energy days before the game. An epic match-up that saw Dion Phaneuf play his first game in the Scotiabank Saddledome since the blockbuster trade. (The last time he played there, he was wearing red and it was known as the Pengrowth Saddledome)
It was a whirlwind few days for the former assistant captain, Dion Phaneuf. It all started off with the news of his grandmothers passing in Prince Edward Island, followed by a major victory over the Edmonton Oilers, and a trip across Canada to attend his late grandmothers funeral. And finally, the much anticipated return to the team that drafted him and signed him in September of 2005. In Calgary, he went on to pile up the points and even receive a nod for the Calder Trophy as the leagues best rookie... Were it not for the fact that his competition was Alex Ovechkin and Sydney Crosby, he may have taken it.
The game itself though, may have outplayed the hype. Early on the boo birds were out in force against Dion. Probably not because of the trade, but because he now wore the most hated (and most loved) jersey in the league with a captaincy 'C' on the left breast.
The pace was established early, with few whistles and end to end action. The building was as electrified as any playoff game I've witnessed. "Go Flames go!" followed by "Calgary sucks!" with an almost harmonic rhythm rang out for minutes at a time until Dion touched the puck, then it was a chorus of both cheers and boos. There was no home ice advantage, but there was definitely energy that could be absorbed and utilized by both teams.
By the end of the 1st period the game was tied 1-1, with goals by Toronto's Nikolei Kulemin(10) and Calgary's Michel Backlund(4), and a crossbar hit early by Jay Bouwmeester. It looked like this may be a close one... Then the wheels fell off.
J.S. Giguere made every attempt to keep the Leaf's in the game, he made an amazing save off Olli Jokinen, and a couple of highlight reel saves of Matt Stajan, but it was not enough. At 15:17 into the second period the firing gallery began. Alex Tanguay score his 9th of the year (An assist from Jarome Iginla pushed his point streak to 9 games) and in the next 57 seconds two more goals would be added by the Flames. Olli Jokinen(5) who scored only 23 seconds later, and Rene Borque(13) a few seconds later.
The third period saw a slight lull in the crowd, the energy had run out of both the fans, and the team... It was understandable considering the pace of the first two periods. Like a defibrillator though, life was jolted back into the 'dome. With the score now 5-2 for the Flames, an amazing stretch pass to Jarome Iginla resulted in what looked like a tired Dion Phaneuf hauling down Iginla on a breakaway, the sell-out crowd stood and looked to the ref, who pointed to center ice.
Jarome went in wide and attempted a five hole shot, but Jonas Gustavsson had the answer. The game went on with intensity and vigor, but the score would remain the same, ending in a 5-2 victory for the Flames. The crowd stood and saluted their hockey heroes, wearing both blue and red. If not for a lapse of one minute by the Leafs, that the Flames took full advantage of, this would have a very different game, but the results speak for themselves and Calgary outworked a Leaf's team that showed a lot of heart, but not a lot of push when down.
Toronto has a tough road ahead as they board a plane after the game and face a skilled Vancouver team on Saturday.
Up next for Calgary is the last of a home stand(2-0-0/3) against the Minnesota Wild. The big question going in is can Calgary keep the intensity and drive against a Minny team that has a system that calls for boredom. Or, can they leap-frog the Wild in the standings, ride this wave of dominance and put together a streak that sees them back in the playoff picture.
Three Stars as selected by Charlie Simmer
3) Alex Tanguay (1g)
2) Nik Hagman (1g 1a)
1) Ollie Jokinen (1g 2a)