VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP)—Calgary captain Jarome Iginla made sure the Flames went into the playoffs on a high note.
Iginla scored his 50th goal of the season and added two assists as the Flames finished the regular season with a 7-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night.
Eric Nystrom scored his second goal with 1:42 left, and also added two assists, including the cross-crease feed for Iginla’s milestone goal with 7:25 left, giving Calgary’s captain 50 goals for a second time, and a career-best 98 points.
“It was a pretty good feeling and nice of (coach) Mike (Keenan) and the guys,” Iginla said after his teammates spent most of the night trying to set him up for No. 50. “He had me out there every second shift. It was sure nice to see it go in, the guys were trying all night to set me up. They were very generous.”
So were the Canucks, who finished the season with just one win in their final eight games, following up last season’s Northwest Division title and franchise record-setting season by missing the playoffs entirely. The game could have been a battle for the final playoff spot, but became a mean-nothing contest for the Canucks after they lost to Edmonton on Thursday, ending their playoff hopes.
The Flames were in the air and en route to Vancouver after a loss in Minnesota when they found out the Canucks had lost, putting Calgary in the playoffs.
“It’s a tough game to play after you are eliminated, I’m sure that emotionally they were down and it’s tough to play hockey if you are, particularly at this level,” Keenan said. “We certainly had some energy because of the opposite effect of us getting in. It was a big relief.”
David Moss, Kristian Huselius, Dustin Boyd and Alex Tanguay also scored as Calgary moved into sixth in the Western Conference, one point ahead of Colorado, which finishes against Minnesota on Sunday. The sixth-seed plays the Wild in the first round, while the seventh-place team will to travel to San Jose in the opener.
Curtis Joseph started ahead of No.1 goalie Miikka Kiprusoff and made 27 saves for his 449th career victory. Calgary players weren’t saying which matchup they prefer, but they clearly hope Saturday’s offensive outburst carries over to the playoffs, especially after winning just three of their final seven games.
“It’s a big lift for us to go in with a win and give ourselves a chance to be as high a seed as we can, and also we were probably gripping our sticks a little tight as a group in our last few games,” Iginla said. “The last five games felt like Game 7s, we were fighting for our lives. It’s something we can draw on. We feel like we ve truly been through a series and we made it through.”
Roberto Luongo made his 31st straight start for Vancouver, but was replaced by Curtis Sanford at the start of the second period after giving up three goals on nine shots in an opening period plagued by poor defensive play.
“I don’t really care,” Luongo said. “My season ended Thursday as far as I’m concerned. I tried to bring it but obviously I didn’t have anything in the tank.”
Byron Ritchie scored the only goal for the Canucks, whose season ended with the players giving the jerseys off their backs to randomly selected fans.
Several might not need them back next season, including captain Markus Naslund and former captain Trevor Linden, two of eight unrestricted free agents who might not be back. For Linden, it was also likely the last of his 19 seasons in the NHL, and Calgary players, led by Iginla, stayed on the ice to shake his hand.
“What an honor if that is Trevor’s last game, to play against him and in it,” said Iginla, taking time to single out Linden for his honest play on the ice and his work as a past President of the NHL Players Association off it. “The great job he has done for us players off the ice and also his character.”
The 37-year-old Linden wasn’t ready to make his retirement official, saying after the game he needed to take some time, but the numerous in-game and postgame tributes—not to mention his parents flying in from Alberta—may be a sign.
“Maybe that’s a hint,” said a smiling Linden, who was a healthy scratch 23 times this season, adding just 12 points to a total of 866, tied for 99th on the NHL’s all-time scoring list. “It was unfortunate the way the game went, but at the same time it was a special night. Overwhelming, but at the same time not surprised. I ve been treated incredibly well by the city of Vancouver for a long time.”
Linden, who was captain from 1991 through 1997 and has played 1,140 of his 1,382 NHL games with the Canucks, appreciated his Calgary counterpart’s gesture.
“It was a very, very classy thing to do,” he said. “Jarome is one of the most classy players in the league and he’s probably the best player in the league.”
Naslund, who has been the captain for eight seasons, moved past Linden for the franchise scoring lead on Dec. 5 this season, and now has 756 points with the Canucks, compared to 733 for Linden. … Sanford stopped 15 of 19 shots.