‘We don’t back down’: Flames cap off special night with dramatic comeback win

Calgary Flames' Yegor Sharangovich scored two goals, one being the game winner, to help comeback against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Calgary edged out Pittsburgh by a score of 4-3.

CALGARY — The evening opened magically, with a pre-game jersey retirement that had all the feels Miikka Kiprusoff deserved.

It ended even more spectacularly, with a stirring, three-goal comeback in the third period that gave the Flames their fifth straight win.

In between, local fans were allowed to wonder if all the distractions were finally taking a toll.

Badly outshot by an equally desperate Penguins club that built a pair of two-goal leads, it stood to reason the sagging morale in town that followed Chris Tanev’s trade Wednesday was made worse by a Jacob Markstrom bombshell two days later that suddenly clouded his future as the team’s backbone.

Yes, Noah Hanifin is also on his way out the door by Friday’s deadline and surely by then the gaping holes left by departing veterans will finally prompt the club to fall from the fringes of a playoff race few thought they’d be in.

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However, for one shining night, all the drama, decisions and reality facing these Calgary Flames was masked by the 50-minute love-in for Kipper, and the dramatic comeback that sent a well-lubricated gathering home thrilled by a 4-3 victory that was punctuated by the game-winner with 50 seconds left.

These are the nights you don’t forget.

“That’s certainly one of the more exciting games I’ve been a part of,” said a jacked-up Nazem Kadri, who re-energized the crowd midway through the third with the first of two goals within 32 seconds that tied the game 3-3 and set up a memorable finish.

“That’s just who we are, we don’t back down, we don’t quit.

“It says a lot about who we have in here, especially when we do it multiple times.

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“I’m certainly honoured to be able to watch a guy like Kipper go up in the rafters, and just seeing how much it meant to him gives you goosebumps. 

“I’m happy we were able to pull it out for him.”

Indeed, the legendarily-stoic Kiprusoff was genuinely touched by a star-studded gathering of former teammates who came to watch his six-minute speech, which prompted several standing ovations, chants of “Kip-per” and a chorus of, “it-was-in.”

Opening with warm welcomes for Darryl Sutter, Jarome Iginla, Robyn Regehr, Rhett Warrener and several other close pals from his nine seasons in town, the long-awaited ceremony also included a Jamie McLennan speech and a spectacular video narrated by Peter Maher.

At the end, there was Kiprusoff, staring up at a rising banner with his two sons, brother and nephew by his side.

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“I (fought) it and I made it, but of course to see those old clips, and hear the fans, it is emotional for sure,” said the man who responded to every goal with a nonplussed flip of the mask, a squirt of water, a lean back on the crossbar and a blank stare reminiscent of someone trying to remember their grocery list.

“My head was empty, enjoying the moment, and listening to fans.

“I was nervous for sure. Hope you didn’t see.”

He wasn’t the only Flames goalie having an emotional week.

On the same day Kiprusoff spoke to the media and was feted at a luncheon, Markstrom said Friday he wasn’t happy with the handling of trade talks, adding, “I think it could have been handled a lot different from up top.”

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Although refreshingly honest, it’s the type of disruptive dig Kiprusoff would never have voiced, assuming the media could have cornered the enigmatic goaltender at all.

In a season littered with distractions, the question was whether the latest dissenting voice would finally deter a surging team that had every reason to falter Saturday.

They didn’t.

Again.

“All year we’ve been very resilient,” said captain Mikael Backlund, credited with not only steering this club through endless PR landmines, but with setting up Blake Coleman’s tying goal and Yegor Sharangovich’s winner.

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“There’s been a lot of things going on, and it feels like we come together as a group. 

“Losing Tanny was really hard for all of us, sad to see him go, but it’s part of business and we all came together, dug deep, and found a way to win.

“We’re trying to focus on what we can.”

Both Backlund and the coach brought it up in morning meetings, and the lads responded.

And while Markstrom let in a shaky goal from a bad angle to open the night, he was flashing his leather like Kiprusoff the rest of the way, making 27 saves to play his role in the win.

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The Flames are now five points back of Los Angeles for the final wild-card berth.

“We’re not here to pack it in and look to the future,” said Coleman, whose club got two goals from Sharangovich.

“We’ve got guys that have won here and guys that want to win here and as long as we have a breath in us we’re going to fight. It’s been a good stretch for us. I’m happy guys are getting rewarded because they’re working hard to be difference-makers.”

Five years to the day Iginla’s No. 12 was retired, every Flames player took warmup wearing Kiprusoff’s No. 34 jersey while endless tributes were made, toasting the Vezina winner whose brilliance transformed an organization on the brink.    

As he walked into a roaring Saddledome to open the ceremony, he fist-bumped 12 minor hockey goalies from every local organization —  a group he returned the favour to by donating $34,000.

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“It was nice to see on a special night for Kipper that we were able to find a way to get a win,” said coach Ryan Huska, whose club was down 3-1 early in the third.

“Getting it against a team that understands how to win, when they had a lead in the third period. was a really good thing for our players.

“Noise or no noise you need those players to be your best players this time of year.”

The type of player Kiprusoff could always be counted to be.  

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