CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — A rejuvenated Matt Stajan was bumped up to the Calgary Flames’ top line between Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla because of his solid play all season.
Stajan made first-year Flames coach Bob Hartley’s move pay off immediately.
Stajan scored twice, including the go-ahead goal, in the Flames’ 3-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night.
“So happy for Matt Stajan,” Hartley said. “What a great reward for him. He played very well and has probably been one of our most consistent players since the start of the year.”
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. He often took the brunt of fan criticism for his lack of offensive production.
“Sometimes things don’t go your way, but a new year comes,” Tanguay said. “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.
“He’s been doing all the little things. He’s worked extremely hard and he deserves what’s happening to him right now. Hopefully he keeps playing like this.”
With the game tied in the third period, Jarome Iginla screened Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom as Chris Butler’s slap shot from the blue line was deflected on net by Iginla.
Backstrom stopped the initial drive and sprawled to get his pad on Stajan’s rebound, but Stajan jammed the puck over the line just inside the post at 7:19.
“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.”
Looking for a spark, Hartley moved him to the top line with Iginla and Tanguay, who also scored.
Charlie Coyle, with his first NHL goal, scored for the Wild, who split their 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,” Coyle said. “We have to stick with it for the full game.
“We had some chances, but we have to create more. We’re capable of doing that.”
Calgary began the night in 14th place in the Western Conference, five points back of the Wild and Phoenix, who are currently in the last two playoff positions.
The Flames will have a chance to move two points closer to Phoenix on Sunday night when they host the Coyotes and wrap up a 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.”
With Miikka Kiprusoff (knee) out for a ninth game, Joey MacDonald made his third start and fourth appearance in five games for Calgary. The 33-year-old MacDonald, claimed on waivers from Detroit two weeks ago, made 30 saves to even his record at 2-2.
Backstrom, who had 24 saves, had been 14-9-5 with a 1.88 goals-against average and .933 save percentage against the Flames.
“This whole game we took the wrong approach into how we’re going to score goals. We shouldn’t play like that,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “This was not the way we’re supposed to play the game.”
Attempting to add more grit to his lineup, Hartley inserted hulking 6-foot-4, 225-pound Akim Aliu.
His addition didn’t have much impact early as Aliu had just three shifts in the first period. However, during a mostly uneventful second period, he fired up the sellout crowd when he stormed his way into the offensive zone and crushed Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner.
“We need to win some games,” Hartley said. “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.”
The other new player in the lineup was Sven Baertschi (hip flexor), who returned after missing 11 games.
Baertschi showed glimpses of his speed early and nearly gave the Flames a 2-0 lead in the first period when he was set up at the far post on a perfect feed from Jiri Hudler. However, Backstrom stretched across and got the tip of his pad on the redirection.
Minnesota tied it 1-1 when Coyle darted for the net and got his stick on a feed from Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
Calgary took the lead 1:40 in off a sequence that began with a 2-on-1 rush by Minnesota.
Dany Heatley flipped a pass across the slot to Miikko Koivu, whose attempt at a one-timer came up empty with the puck bouncing over his stick.
Flames defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who had been caught up ice, retrieved the loose puck, turned, and sent a breakaway pass to Tanguay, who made a slick move to his forehand to fool Backstrom for a shot under the crossbar.
Stajan capped the scoring with a shot into an empty net.
Notes: Roman Cervenka was a healthy scratch for the Flames. … It was the first time in nine games Minnesota has scored a first-period goal. … Minnesota RW Cal Clutterbuck (thigh) didn’t play. Clutterbuck was hurt Friday in Edmonton when Taylor Hall caught him with a knee, a play in which the Oilers forward received a two-game suspension. … Iginla leads Calgary with 59 shots, but has only one goal. Dating to last season, Iginla has scored only two goals in 27 games.