McMahon Stadium, Calgary
Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy — (39 Saves)
Rene Bourque, Cgy — (2G)
Alex Tanguay, Cgy — (1G, 1A)
Outdoor or indoors, little has gone wrong with the Calgary Flames game plan these days.
But Flames head coach Brent Sutter had his players particularly primed for the wintry elements of the Tim Hortons Heritage Classic, which resulted in a 4-0 Calgary win against the Montreal Canadiens before 41,022 chilled fans at McMahon Stadium on Sunday.
"We just didn't have the game plan they did," said Canadiens veteran defenceman James Wisniewski, who returned to action despite a nasty cut under his left eye that required 20 stitches after he was hit with a puck in the first period of a loss to the Edmonton Oilers last Thursday.
Wisniewski was one of the few players on the ice surface on Sunday who had played in an outdoor game that counts. He was with the Chicago Blackhawks on New Year's Day 2009 at Wrigley Field, when the Detroit Red Wings scored a 6-4 victory over the hometown team. That day the conditions were ideal with the temperature at 0 C. The near perfect weather produced the closest product to an indoor game as there has been in the six outdoor games.
The 2011 Heritage Classic was contested under difficult conditions. The players didn't mind the chilly temperature, which was -8 C at puck drop and got colder as the game went on. It was the coldest starting temperature since in the inaugural Heritage Classic in Edmonton in November 2003, when it was -19 C at game time.
The only person who didn't think it was frosty was evidently Canadiens coach Jacques Martin, who refused to wear a toque or any sort of hat to keep his oversized ears warm.
Because it was so frigid in Calgary on Saturday — the thermometer dipped below -20 C and didn't warm up until Sunday afternoon — the ice was rock hard. There also was a mishap with the Zamboni: The resurfacing machine's weight damaged the ice on Saturday. As a result, NHL ice guru Dan Craig and his crew flooded the surface with a hose.
"The ice was hard, so your skate blades just didn't grab," said Montreal goalie Carey Price, who was brilliant in the first period with 18 stops.
The puck also bounced around quite a bit, making it difficult for the players to shoot, pass and carry the puck. But in the end, the Flames produced four goals, which was an output better than the result seen in the Winter Classics played in Buffalo, Boston and in Pittsburgh seven weeks ago.
"I think the ice got better as we went along," said Flames forward Alex Tanguay, who scored the game's final goal in the third period. "But at the start of the game the ice wasn't great, so it was important for us to take the lead and play with an advantage."
Flames forward René Bourque scored during a 5-on-3 advantage midway through the first period, and Calgary defenceman Anton Babchuk scored a back-breaking shorthanded goal in the second period, which was followed by Bourque's second of the game two minutes later.
Bourque also fired 11 of the Flames 38 shots on goal.
The win enabled Calgary to improve to 17-4-5 since Dec. 23 and move into sixth spot in the West. The Canadiens play a speed game with swift puck movement. But Montreal didn't adapt, while Calgary's dump and chase, get pucks to the net style was more suited to the wintry conditions.
Wisniewski remarked that the conditions and the loss made for a frustrating day.
"I've never been more frustrated in my life playing hockey," he said. "We're a skilled team that makes plays and it was tough to do that."
A doughnut for Kiprusoff
Since the game was sponsored by a doughnut shot, Miikka Kiprusoff might as well provide the first shutout or doughnut in NHL outdoor game history. The Flames stingy netminder made 39 saves for his fourth shutout of the season and 38th of his career.
Other outdoor game records included most shots in a period at 19 for the Flames, only to be surpassed by the Canadiens 21 in the second period. The combined 76 shots was a total that was four shy of the record 80 shots fired by Detroit and Chicago at Wrigley Field two years ago.
Another Heritage Classic?
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who was among the crowd at McMahon Stadium, was asked after the game about the future of playing both a Winter Classic and Heritage Classic.
"It's one we've been debating internally and [one] we're actually doing a lot of research on," Bettman said, "because when you do one event, then from a national — both across Canada and United States — platform, you say, 'OK, that's the one TV event.'
"We know this from our other events — such as the All-Star game — which are huge events in the places where they're held. And we've got to balance uniqueness versus an appetite for teams and fans to have these events.
"Some of the preliminary research we've seen says our fans want more of these," Bettman said. " They don't care how many as long as they get one.
"Obviously you can't do an unlimited number and we don't want to dilute it. We thought it was important to go to a second game this year and have one in Canada. But you've asked the question which we haven't yet answered."
What about Winnipeg?
With the financial situation becoming dodgy in Atlanta, Bettman was asked about the possibility of the Thrashers moving to Winnipeg.
"I don't think there's any new news about Atlanta," he said. "I know there was an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, but I hate speculation. I hate the stories, because it raises people's expectations when they shouldn't be."
Montreal struggles in West
The loss made the Canadiens struggles in Western Canada even worse. They have gone 4-19-4 and two ties in their last 29 combined games in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. One of the four wins was in the 2003 Heritage Classic in Edmonton.
The breakdown for the Habs western woes is: 1-7-1 in Vancouver, 2-6-2 in Edmonton and 1-6-1 with two ties in Calgary.