CALGARY – After Colin Fraser’s bad break early in the second period led to a Calgary goal, the Chicago forward quickly redeemed himself.
Fraser knocked a clearing pass out of midair, leading to Ben Eager’s game-winning goal at 5:52 of the third period as the Blackhawks beat the struggling Flames 3-1 Thursday.
After Fraser intercepted the puck off the stick of Flames defenceman Adam Pardy, Tomas Kopecky got the puck in the slot and had his shot deflect off Eager’s knee and past goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff.
Calgary had tied the game at 18:31 in the second on a power play, striking on what became essentially a two-man advantage when Fraser’s stick broke.
Jarome Iginla threaded a pass to Dion Phaneuf, whose slapshot was partially stopped by Antti Niemi. Jamie Lundmark was at the side of the net to whack in the rebound.
“Those things happen, you break a stick and you feel absolutely useless out there and they capitalized on it,” said Fraser. “It was a good feeling late in the third when Bennie gets a lucky one off his knee. We’ll take it.”
It’s the fifth goal of the season for Eager, and his second in as many games against Calgary.
“The first half of the season, we felt we weren’t playing as well as we could but our line’s been getting some production here the last 10-15 games,” said Fraser. “We’ve played our game, really simplified our game, and try to create energy for our team and we’ve been able to get some lucky ones.”
Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, into an empty net, also scored for Chicago (35-12-4), which remained two points back of the San Jose Sharks for first place in the Western Conference. San Jose beat Anaheim 3-1 Thursday.
Chicago has won all three games in the season series and seven in a row at the Pengrowth Saddledome since last losing on Nov. 22, 2006.
Calgary (26-19-6) has lost five straight in regulation, is winless in its last six, and suddenly find itself in ninth place and out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference after being passed by both Detroit and Los Angeles.
“We really have to find a way to start winning a lot of games and winning a lot of games in a row to get back in this thing,” said Flames centre Craig Conroy, who hit the crossbar late in the third period with the Flames down a goal.
“This one was a must-win for us but we don’t capitalize, we don’t do it. We had some good chances but we didn’t finish. It seemed like we still came out a little slow again for whatever reason.”
The Flames are also winless in their last five home games (0-4-1). The sell-out crowd of 19,289 booed the Flames as they left the ice.
“There’s no question we weren’t as sharp,” said Iginla, who has only two assists in his last nine games. “Guys wanted to make the plays, guys wanted to make the difference. But for the most part, almost all of us were… you know that old saying, we’re squeezing a little hard and not making the passes and looking like we were standing still. A lot of times when it looks like you’re standing still, it’s because you’re thinking and you’re trying too hard and you’re pressing.”
With the game scoreless, Calgary received the first power play of the night early in the second period.
However, the Flames much maligned power play, a dreadful 1-for-28 over the previous nine games, struggled to generate any sustained pressure or register a shot on goal.
Minutes later, Chicago surged in front converting its first power play.
Jonathan Toews stripped the puck from Cory Sarich on the side boards and wired a cross-ice pass to Patrick Kane, whose one-timer squeaked through the pads of Miikka Kiprusoff at 9:14 of the second period.
“We knew they were going to come out hard too, I know that’s a frustrated team. We definitely had to match their intensity if anything so it was a good win tonight,” said Toews.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville likes how his team answered back after a 4-1 loss to Ottawa in its previous outing.
“A really good response across the board,” said Quenneville. “Everybody played hard, played well. We got the start we were looking for. Everyone contributed to today’s game and for Antti, it was a good one for him as well.”
Niemi made 19 stops to improve to 13-3-1. Niemi was making his second start in the last three games and could be in line for more work as early as Saturday night when the Blackhawks continue their eight game road trip in Vancouver.
“We’ll talk about that tomorrow but we like what we saw today and he’s playing well, it’s tough to take that away,” said Quenneville.
Kiprusoff had 25 saves to fall to 23-15-6.
Notes: Calgary LW Fredrik Sjostrom finally played in his 400th NHL game after being a healthy scratch the previous six games… After scoring five goals in the first 18 games, Calgary LW Eric Nystrom has gone 33 games without a goal… Other slumping Flames forwards include C Daymond Langkow (0 goals in 9 games), Dawes (0 goals in 17 games), and Sjostrom (0 goals in 33 games)… Calgary is 20-1-1 when leading after two periods, but fall to 6-18-5 when tied or trailing after 40 minutes… Chicago avoids losing consecutive games in regulation for what would have been the first time since back-to-back losses Oct. 17 and 21.