CALGARY – The Flames started strong and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff finished the job as Calgary held off the Vancouver Canucks 5-3 in the NHL season-opener for both clubs.
Kiprusoff made 39 saves – with the bulk of them after his team built a 4-1 lead – as Calgary snapped a six-game losing streak in season-openers.
Rene Bourque, Brandon Prust and defencemen Mark Giordano and Adam Pardy struck for the hosts and Dion Phaneuf scored the empty-netter in front of a sellout of 19,289 at the Pengrowth Saddledome.
Kevin Bieksa, Alex Burrows, and Mikael Samuelsson replied for Vancouver, which fought back from a 3-0 deficit after the first period and is expected to rival Calgary for the Northwest Division title this season.
“Every time we play them, it’s going to be a battle,” Bourque said. “There’s definitely guys that you don’t like on that team and I’m sure they don’t like us either.
“Every game is going to be a war. I expect the next five of the regular season to be the same as tonight.”
Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo made 19 saves in the loss.
It was the first regular-season game for the Flames under new coach Brent Sutter and while he was pleased to get the victory, he was concerned about being outshot 28-8 after Calgary’s fourth goal.
“I’m not sitting here and doing handstands and thinking we played a great game, but we played a pretty darned good game for 38 minutes,” he said. “We backed off and that’s where we have to continue to work and push.
“Our goalie played very well. It’s two points and it’s a good win. There’s work to be done.”
Jay Bouwmeester also played his first game as a Flame after signing to a US$33-million, five-year contract during the summer.
“At the end of the day teams are close in this league and a win’s a win,” said the 25-year-old Edmonton native who logged over 29 minutes in his debut. “It’s all good.”
Burrows pulled the visitors to within a goal less than a minute into the third period after Vancouver scored a pair of power-play goals in the second to trail 4-2 after 40 minutes.
“You can’t spot a team like that a two-or three-goal lead and expect to win,” Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault said.
The Flames scored two power-play goals within eight minutes of the opening faceoff and another even-strength goal had the home team in control after the first period. Calgary’s power play ranked 21st in the NHL last season.
“We wanted to improve our power play from last year,” Bourque said. “Two big goals and that was probably the difference in the game.”
The Flames killed off Daymond Langkow’s tripping penalty late in the third to maintain their one-goal lead before Phaneuf’s empty-netter.
Kiprusoff robbed Henrik Sedin twice in the third period and the second time a sprawling stop with his outstretched stick. Just seconds after a spinning like a top to deny Sedin to open the period, Burrows tucked a rebound under the Finnish netminder :41 seconds in.
Samuelsson redirected an Alexander Edler pass around Kiprusoff at 18:10 of the second period with Flames defenceman Robyn Regehr serving a holding penalty.
The fourth line of Prust, Fred Sjostrom and Eric Nystrom combined on Calgary’s fourth goal at 9:34. Prust dragged the puck out of the corner and scored on Luongo with a wrap-around goal that was the second his career.
Bieksa’s blast from the point deflected off the skate of Calgary’s Sjostrom for a power-play goal at 4:02.
Phaneuf’s open-ice toppling of Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin in the final minute of the first period, prompted a melee between all players on the ice at the buzzer.
Pardy padded Calgary’s lead 11:52 of the first. Craig Conroy won the faceoff and sent the puck back to Pardy, who scored on a rising, off-speed shot over Luongo’s shoulder.
With Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin in the penalty box for roughing, Giordano sent the puck down low along the boards to Nigel Dawes behind Vancouver’s net. The Winnipeg native flipped the puck out to Bourque in the slot and he beat Luongo glove side at 7:56.
Giordano took two steps out from the side boards and beat Luongo with a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle at 5:50.
The Flames celebrated the start of their 30th year in Calgary by wearing retro jerseys from their inaugural 1980-81 campaign. The franchise was based in Atlanta for eight seasons prior to moving to Alberta.
Notes: The Flames and Canucks will square off five more times and conclude the regular season against each other on April 10, 2010 . . . Bouwmeester extended the NHL’s current streak for consecutive games played to 343 games . . . Calgary enforcer Brian McGrattan remained out of the line (shoulder) and is expected to play his first game Oct. 8 versus Edmonton. . . Pavol Demitra (shoulder), defenceman Mathieu Schneider (shoulder), forward Jannik Hansen (broken fingers) were Vancouver’s scratches . . . Calgary centre Olli Jokinen played his 800th career game Thursday . . . Former Flames defenceman Rhett Warrener has joined the team’s scouting staff . . . Vancouver dropped to 21-15-3 in season openers, while Calgary improved to 12-15-10 . . . Calgary was without defenceman Cory Sarich because of a nagging foot injury.