CALGARY — The Calgary Flames remained undefeated thanks to their unheralded fourth line and third defensive pairing.
Eric Nystrom scored twice and Staffan Kronwall’s first NHL goal was the game-winner as the Flames won 4-3 over the Montreal Canadiens.
On a night where the top defensive duo of Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf were each a minus three, Calgary’s unsung combo of Kronwall and Adam Pardy chipped in two assists each.
“We’re both pretty big guys who are just trying to keep it simple, that’s the key for us” said Kronwall.
They earned the praise of Flames coach Brent Sutter.
“They played very well, both of them,” Sutter said. “Pards has started to come and the last couple games, he’s certainly been really strong. I thought Krons, this was certainly his best game. He was really solid.”
Calgary captain Jarome Iginla added his first of the season for the Flames (3-0-0).
Scott Gomez, Guillaume Latendresse and Tomas Plekanec replied for Montreal.
Tied 3-3 entering the third, the deciding goal came at 2:16 when Kronwall’s slapshot deflected off the stick of a Canadiens defenceman and past goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
“I’m taking it one game at a time, I’m trying to improve. As long as the team keeps improving and I’m improving, we’re all happy,” said Kronwall, 26, whose only NHL experience entering this season was 55 games spread across three seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals.
The deciding goal was originally credited to Nystrom prompting the throwing of 20-30 hats onto the Pengrowth Saddledome ice. Although the goal wasn’t changed until after the game, Nystrom knew he hadn’t scored it.
“My stick was right there but it hit the guy’s stick right in front of me and got a great bounce,” said Nystrom. “That was good for our line. We got a lot of good bounces but we were working very hard and when you do that sometimes you get the bounces and tonight was one of those nights and you can’t complain about that.”
Nystrom’s line with Fredrik Sjostrom and Brandon Prust were all a plus-three.
“A couple fights, a few goals, it was a great game for them,” said Iginla. “It’s huge momentum when they go out and play in the other team’s end, and play physical, and play with energy.”
Nystrom’s play also caught the eye of former U.S. college teammate Mike Cammalleri.
“I saw him score 17 goals playing on a line with him in Michigan,” said Cammalleri, who signed with Montreal as a free agent after leading the Flames with 39 goals last year. “Even last year, you can attest to some of the plays he makes when he gets a chance. You get a little open ice, he makes a nice fake a He scored probably three or four highlight reel goals last year.”
Montreal carried the play most of the third period, threatening several times to tie the game. But Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff was excellent stopping all 15 shots he faced in that final 20 minutes.
One of the most dangerous chances came when Mark Giordano broke his stick on a shot attempt allowing Montreal to break out of its zone on a four-one-two. However, former Flame Mike Cammalleri had his hard shot turned aside by Kiprusoff.
Kiprusoff finished with 27 saves on the night to improve to 3-0-0.
“We lost a big game tonight but we’re still 2-1 and we’ll get back at it tomorrow night in Vancouver,” said Latendresse.
Wednesday’s meeting at GM Place will be a tough one according to Montreal coach Jacques Martin.
“Vancouver is going to be hungry after an 0-3 start, they’re going to be waiting for us,” said Martin. “We just have to come out and play three periods like we did in the first and the third. We had some good intensity and we have to be prepared to battle for 60 minutes.”
Trailing 2-1, Nystrom got Calgary back to even at 13:03 of the second deflecting in Pardy’s shot from the blue-line.
Just over two minutes later, Iginla scored to put the Flames back into the lead.
On the only power play chance for either in the first 40 minutes, Olli Jokinen wired a slapshot that rang loudly off the far goal post. As Halak looked over his right shoulder to see if the puck was in the net, the puck caromed back out to Halak’s left onto the stick of Iginla and before Halak turned his head back around, Iginla knocked in a backhand from a sharp angle.
That power play was the only man advantage for either team on the night.
Calgary is off to a blazing 5-for-7 start on the power play through its first three games.
However, like in the first period, Montreal again struck in the final minute tying the game 3-3 on Plekanec’s spin-around back-hand from a sharp angle that fooled Kiprusoff who got caught pulling away from the post early.
Ninety seconds away from heading to the first intermission down 1-0, Montreal got goals 32 seconds apart from Cammalleri and Latendresse to surge in front.
Calgary opened the scoring at 8:17 when Nystrom was first to a rebound 10 feet in front of Halak and through a crowd wristed a shot into the top corner.
Notes: Nystrom entered the night with just one two-goal game in his career, coming April 5, 2008 versus Vancouver… Calgary hadn’t won three in a row to start the season since 1993-94… Kronwall entered the night as the only Calgary skater without a point in the first two games… Montreal D Yannick Weber, recalled Sunday from Hamilton (AHL), was inserted into the line-up in place of injured defenceman Andrei Markov (ankle tendon surgery), who will be lost for four months… Calgary has been outshot in all three games (106-72).