CALGARY – The score was irrelevant.
The scorers were anything but.
The Calgary Flames’ top line has spent the better part of a month trying to get its mojo back.
James Neal has been chasing it the whole season.
In an otherwise meaningless tilt with a glorified AHL club wearing Ducks jerseys, Flames top line centerpiece Sean Monahan and Neal ended lengthy droughts in a 6-1 win at the Dome.
Monahan calmly banged in a rebound early in the second period to give him a career-high 32 goals on the year. He’d later add another, to go with two assists, but not before a muted celly that didn’t see him raise his arms at all.
Instead, he closed his eyes and exhaled in relief before turning towards teammates for obligatory hugs.
"For sure, I haven’t really scored a goal where I felt like that before," said Monahan, who has been facing endless questions about his health as he found the scoresheet once in his last eight games – a stretch in which he also sat out twice.
"It’s nice to put one in and nice to win. Any time you go into a slump it sucks. It’s frustrating but it’s much easier to go through that when you look at the position we’re in."
The win moved the Flames within one win or one San Jose loss of clinching tops in the Pacific Division and Western Conference, guaranteeing them home ice until the Stanley Cup Final.
The Sharks are mired in a seven-game losing skid and could hand Calgary the west title Saturday night should they lose to Vegas – one night before the Flames visit San Jose.
There was more clarity on Calgary’s probable first round opponent late Friday as Colorado beat Arizona in a shootout to take a three-point lead on the Coyotes for the final wild card spot in the west.
It’s a favourable matchup for the Flames, who won all three meetings with the banged-up Avalanche this season.
In the final minute Monahan ripped one from inside the blue line late to spark a flood of unwarranted hats from a crowd largely unaware an earlier goal credited to Monahan was later awarded to Neal.
Upping his career-high season total to 33 goals, Monahan managed to enjoy the goal more than his earlier snipe, raising both arms triumphantly and sporting a massive grin.
Neal’s first in 12 games and sixth of the season came on the power play when he jumped to try getting out of the way of Monahan’s shot, only to see it carom in off him.
Truth is, he deserved a break like that as the pricey veteran free agent signing had a solid game.
"I’m just trying to get ready for the playoffs," said Neal earlier in the day when asked about the team’s previous two losses in the midst of a late-season slate that means little due to the Sharks’ implosion.
"It’s a weird time of the year, especially for teams that may be in first or a few points ahead. You’ve really got to refocus and get up for games. They’re all meaningful but obviously you’re not playing for a playoff spot. It’s tough but it’s something we talked about."
Having scored just once in their previous two games, there was increasing concern over the play of Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm.
Reunited Friday after being separated for the bulk of Wednesday’s loss, the three combined for five shots and six points as part of an effort Monahan hopes will re-invigorate a group that has been wildly inconsistent since dominating the NHL the first three months of the season.
"To get some confidence back putting the puck in the net is huge," said Monahan, whose club also got goals from Mark Giordano, Derek Ryan and Garnet Hathaway to move eight points up on San Jose.
"More importantly, those two points are going to go a long way."