The struggling Calgary Flames forward scored in his return to Toronto on Saturday night and helped his club to a 2-1 shootout victory over the Maple Leafs.
“One of the best feelings I’ve had—relief, excitement,” Stajan said. “It’s been a tough year, and to see that one go in and make a difference in the game, it feels really good for sure.
“To say it’s just another win, I’d be lying. It’s a special win for me.”
The 27-year-old Stajan grew up in Ontario and spent the first seven years of his pro career playing for the hometown Maple Leafs. He was dealt to the Flames last Jan. 31 in the trade that brought Dion Phaneuf(notes) to Toronto.
Stajan’s struggles this season began in training camp when he separated a shoulder. He is on pace for a career-worst six goals.
“It started with an injury and I haven’t had confidence,” Stajan said. “You don’t want to make excuses, but I just haven’t been getting the bounces. It’s just the way the season’s gone … I’ve been working as hard as I ever have, trying to get out of this rut.
“Hopefully, I’ll start building and going forward from there.”
“Of course you hear it. I can’t lie about that,” Kiprusoff said of Sutter’s criticism. “You can’t worry. I know pretty well myself what I have to do. Yeah, I’ve been working hard.
“I felt pretty good. It was a big two points.”
Sutter had nothing but good things to say about Kiprusoff this time.
“He played extremely well,” the coach said. “I was proud of how he responded. He did a great job.”
“It’s a big point for our team,” Phaneuf said. “We’re not happy about not getting the two, but it showed a lot of character and showed a lot about our group the way we’ve been playing the last couple weeks. We’ve been in every hockey game and we’ve battled right to the end.”
Players on both teams showed the effects of a busy schedule. The Flames were on the end of back-to-back games, and the Maple Leafs just returned home from a four-game western swing.
The pace picked up in the third period. With the game still scoreless, Calgary’s Alex Tanguay(notes) had Giguere beaten but he rang a shot off the crossbar. Kiprusoff stood tall as Leafs forwards Darryl Boyce(notes) and Joey Crabb(notes) whacked away at a loose puck.
“We didn’t have our legs for most of the night and it was a real struggle,” Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson said.
That came moments before Stajan scored in his first game back in Toronto since being traded to Calgary last Jan. 31. The struggling forward pumped his fists enthusiastically after beating Giguere for his third goal of the season.
Kiprusoff looked as though he would make that goal stand up when he denied Phil Kessel(notes) on a chance off the rush. But a late hooking penalty to Ales Kotalik(notes) gave Toronto new life, and Grabovski fired home the tying goal while Giguere was on the bench for an extra attacker.
The game was a matchup of veteran goaltenders that are currently fighting for their place in the lineup. Giguere was making his first start since Dec. 16 — a return that was delayed by James Reimer’s(notes) good play. Kiprusoff has struggled with consistency.
There were no signs of rust from Giguere despite the long layoff. Rene Bourque(notes) had his chance from in close denied in the first period. Tim Jackman(notes) missed on a breakaway deke in the second.
“I felt pretty good,” Giguere said. “It’s been a tough battle since Christmas trying to get myself back into the game. It was just nice to be able to play a game and to compete.”
It was the first NHL game for the 22-year-old German, who became the 11th player to appear in a game for the Maple Leafs and AHL Marlies this season.
NOTES: Flames D Robyn Regehr(notes) missed his second straight game because of an undisclosed lower body injury. … Toronto’s Mike Brown(notes) served the first game of a three-game suspension. … Flames D Jay Bouwmeester(notes) played in his 469th straight game—the longest current streak in the NHL.