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Flames remain Red Wings' nemesis

The SportsXchange

CALGARY -- If the Detroit Red Wings fail to earn an spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Calgary Flames will deserve credit for their part in ending the longest postseason streak in North America's big four professional sports leagues.

Fourth-line winger Steve Begin got credit for a couple of wacky goals in the third period, and the Flames eked out a 3-2 win Wednesday over the Red Wings at the Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary's third triumph this season over Detroit.

The game was tied after two periods, but Begin capitalized on a couple of mistakes by Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard for his first two-goal effort of the lockout-shortened season. In fact, the 34-year-old has just four goals this year, meaning half of his offense came in a span of 10:25 in Wednesday's victory.

"Guys think I cut a deal with the goalie on the other side, but just lucky bounces," Begin said. "We always say when you work hard, things are gonna happen for you. I guess that happened tonight."

Lucky is the right word for it.

Just 2:28 into the final frame, Howard tried to set up the breakout behind his net, but he got mixed up with defenseman Jonathan Ericsson. The puck was stuck in Howard's skates as he returned to the crease, and it was eventually freed by the tip of Begin's stick, as Begin poked it into the net.

With 7:07 remaining and the Wings searching for the equalizer on the power play, Begin again swiped the puck from Detroit's goalie and added an insurance goal on an uncontested wraparound.

"I made a mistake on the third one, simple as that," Howard said. "Last time I checked, I'm human. It was a tough one tonight because it was the game-winner.

"It's on me."

At the other end of the ice, goalie Miikka Kiprusoff was almost mistake-free for the Flames, only allowing two goals on 38 shots. The second one -- Johan Franzen's backhander from the neutral zone with 2:42 left on the clock -- was ugly, but Kiprusoff ensured it didn't matter, making a beautiful glove save on Wings defenseman Jakub Kindl with 17 seconds left.

Kiprusoff stopped 18 shots in the third period.

"From the first shot, we knew that Miikka was on his game," Flames coach Bob Hartley said. "When you know that your goalie is in the zone like he was tonight, it's not like one lucky goal is going to take him off his game, and we saw it in the last minute with that glove save.

"One thing about Kipper is his mental strength. Tonight, he showed it."

The Wings (20-16-7) will have to show the mental strength to shrug off Wednesday's heartbreaker.

They have qualified for the playoffs in 21 consecutive seasons, but they fell to ninth spot in the Western Conference after Wednesday's results. The Red Wings are now two points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets, although they have one game in hand.

The Red Wings have two days off before Saturday's meeting with the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena.

"I don't pull out any tricks. I deal in realism and facts, and the facts speak pretty clear is that this is urgent mode for us," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "You've got to win your way in. You can't watch your way in. You've got to win your way in."

With the Blue Jackets' 3-2 overtime win over the Anaheim Ducks, the Flames (17-22-4) were mathematically eliminated and will miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season.

Next up for the Flames is Friday's date with the Ducks, Calgary's final home game of the season.

Lee Stempniak also scored Wednesday for the Flames, while Gustav Nyquist had the Wings' other goal.

The Flames only managed two shots in the middle period but grabbed the momentum on Begin's back-to-back goals and hung on for the win.

The versatile forward was back on the ice on a late penalty kill and had the green light to try to finish off the hat trick.

"I was hoping he could get his hat-trick -- three empty nets," Hartley said. "The last 30 seconds, he was on the ice and I told him, 'Go for it,' but the puck didn't get to him. Tonight, the way he was scoring goals, as soon as he would touch it, anything could have happened."

He had to share the spotlight, however, with Kiprusoff. With speculation building that the goalie could retire after this season, the 36-year-old delivered a first-star performance. The fans responded with a loud ovation.

"It was unbelievable," Kiprusoff said. "I think the crowd has been great for me since I came here, and again tonight, it was a pretty nice feeling to play in front of them."

NOTES: One day before facing the Flames, the Red Wings officially announced a six-year contract extension for Howard. Detroit's starting goalie will earn $31.8 million during the life of his new deal, which was the worst-kept secret in the hockey. ... The Flames have signed Reto Berra to an entry-level contract for next season. The 26-year-old Swiss goalie was acquired from the St. Louis Blues as part of the return for defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. He'll earn $975,000 on the one-year pact. ... Flames center Matt Stajan returned to the lineup after missing four games with a head injury. The hosts were without forwards Brian McGrattan (shoulder) and Alex Tanguay (knee) and defenseman Derek Smith (knee). ... Red Wings forwards Todd Bertuzzi (back) and Mikael Samuelsson (pectoral muscle) are on the road trip but didn't face the Flames, while winger Darren Helm (back) stayed in Detroit. ... Former Buffalo Sabres bench boss Lindy Ruff, who was named head coach of Team Canada for the upcoming IIHF World Hockey Championship, attended the game.
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