Through their last five games, the Calgary Flames had taken to the ice like a Zamboni with two soft tires and a bent squeegee. They were getting around; they just weren't getting it done.
Instead of furious starts, the Flames were opening with sluggish, halting efforts. Instead of wins, they got shootout losses and an overtime defeat. They vowed that had to change for Monday's second game of a home-and-home stand against the Dallas Stars.
And did it? Well, the road to the Stanley Cup playoffs is still a rugged haul for the Flames, but their 5-4 win over Dallas at least pumped some air in their tires.
In a game they had to win to stay in the Western Conference race, the Flames did a few things wrong – they fell behind early in both the first and second periods against a team that had beaten them 4-1 on Saturday – but they did a whole lot more right. For example: they scored four goals in the second period, including two on the power play. That was saying plenty considering Calgary had scored just six goals in its recent five-game winless streak.
Not only that, it was who was scoring for Calgary that excited the crowd at the Scotiabank Saddledome. Olli Jokinen scored his first in eight games. Alex Tanguay scored his first in six. Mike Cammalleri had a goal and two assists. Captain Jarome Iginla recorded two assists in the second period. That, too, was saying plenty since he had failed to score a point in the team's five-game slump.
Toss in a goal and an assist from defenceman Mark Giordano and it signaled the Flames' biggest offensive output in almost a month.
"We have a lot of good players on this team and eventually they're going to score," said Cammalleri. "I think there was a little less squeezing the stick. For whatever reason, the puck starts going your way and you relax."
Asked if the team got a little kick in the stomach when Kiprusoff let in the Stars' first shot on goal, Cammalleri replied: "A little bit. I'm not going to lie. But we knew we had to create goals so it was, 'Who cares if that happened? Let's score some goals.'"
Monday's game wasn't 30 seconds old when Dallas scored. It came off a Jamie Benn shot from 60-feet out that Kiprusoff misjudged then mishandled. His teammates, however, bailed him out with their first powerplay goal against Dallas this season. Jokinen scored it directly in front of Stars' goalie Kari Lehtonen.
After Tanguay failed to convert on a shorthanded breakaway, Benn scored again to make it 2-1 early in the second forcing Calgary head coach Brent Sutter to call a time-out. It proved to be good strategy.
Within nine minutes, the Flames had scored off a horrific Dallas giveaway (Mike Ribeiro's inexplicable pass set up a wide-open Blake Comeau) and off a room-service rebound to an uncovered Cammalleri.
Ribeiro atoned for his gaffe by tying the game at 3-3 before Calgary scored twice on the power play (Giordano then Tanguay) to take a two-goal lead into the third period.
Defenceman Philip Larsen pulled Dallas within a goal with his second of the season.
"Our power play was good. We got a ton of shots," said Giordano. "Our mindset was to get in their defence, force the play and shoot pucks at the net. We're definitely not out of (the playoffs). We got a big win tonight and now we have to keep it going."
Calgary's 85 points through 77 games means it remains still stuck in 11th place behind the likes of the Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks. All three teams, joined by the Stars, Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes, are bundled in a six-team race for three playoff spots.
The Flames now have five games remaining, four at home (against Los Angeles on Wednesday, Colorado on Friday, Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks) and one of the road this Saturday in Vancouver.