A rejuvenated Matt Stajan was rewarded for his consistent play Saturday night by being inserted onto Calgary's top line between Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla, and the move paid off immediately.
Stajan scored twice including the go-ahead goal at 7:19 of the third as the Flames earned a much-needed two points with a 3-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild.
"So happy for Matt Stajan, what a great reward for him, played very well and has probably been one of our most consistent players since the start of the year," said first-year Flames coach Bob Hartley.
During his first three seasons with Calgary after he was part of the blockbuster Dion Phaneuf trade with Toronto, Stajan was one of the team's most maligned players, often the butt of fan criticism for his lack of offensive production.
"Sometimes things don't go your way but a new year comes and Bob seems to have a lot of confidence in Matt and he's been playing great. He's been killing penalties for us, he's been playing against the top unit on the other side on most nights, and he's been great on faceoffs," said Tanguay.
"He's been doing all the little things. He's worked extremely hard and he deserves what's happening to him right now and hopefully he keeps playing like this."
Tied 1-1 in the third period and with Iginla screening Niklas Backstrom, Chris Butler's slapshot was deflected on net. Backstrom stopped that shot, then sprawled to get his pad on Stajan's first rebound attempt. But he kept after the loose puck, jamming it inside the post.
"It's just a scramble goal and there are so many goals in this league like that," said Stajan, who leads the Flames with a plus-7. "Unless you're Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin dangling through guys, you're not going to score too many goals end to end."
Stajan wrapped up the scoring into an empty net with nine seconds left.
Calgary (6-7-3) began the night in 14th place in the Western Conference, five points back of the Wild and Phoenix, who held down the final two playoff spots. The Flames get a chance to move two points closer to the Coyotes on Sunday night when they wrap up their three-game homestand.
"You just look at the standings, there's only 32 games left so you have to string them together," Stajan said. "There's so many three-point games, this is a huge weekend for us and we're only halfway done. It's nice to get the two points but we're here for four points this weekend, not just one win."
Charlie Coyle, with his first NHL goal, scored the lone goal for Minnesota (8-7-2). The Wild split its two-game trip through Alberta.
"We came out pretty good and had a few shots in the first period but then we died down a little bit and we can't afford to do that. We have to stick with it for the full game," said Coyle. "We had some chances but we have to create more and we're capable of doing that."
With Miikka Kiprusoff (knee) missing his ninth game, Joey MacDonald made his third start and fourth appearance in the last five games. The 33-year-old, claimed on waivers from Detroit two weeks ago, made 30 saves to even his record at 2-2.
Backstrom had 24 saves for the Wild. It was no surprise that he got the start considering his career 14-9-5 record against Calgary along with 1.88 goals-against average and .933 save percentage.
"This whole game we took the wrong approach into how we're going to score goals. We shouldn't play like that," said Wild coach Mike Yeo. "This was not the way we're supposed to play the game."
Attempting to add more grit to his lineup, Flames coach Bob Hartley inserted hulking six-foot-four, 225-pound Akim Aliu. He made his presence felt in the second period when he stormed his way into the offensive zone and crushed Wild defenceman Clayton Stoner into the end boards.
"We need to win some games, I told the players this morning: the win one, lose one is not going to work in an 82-game schedule and it certainly is not going to work in a condensed schedule," Hartley said.
Calgary took the lead 1:40 into the game. After Mikko Koivu failed to connect on a one-timer on a 2-on-1, Jay Bouwmeester sent a breakaway pass to Tanguay who made no mistake making a slick move to his forehand to fool Backstrom for a shot under the crossbar.
Minnesota tied the game 1-1 when Coyle darted for the net and got his stick on a perfect feed from Pierre-Marc Bouchard.