Colorado Avalanche\'s Ruslan Salei, right, from Belarus, dumps Calgary Flames\' Craig Conroy into the Avalanche bench during third period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Thursday, March 20, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
CALGARY - His name appears nowhere on the scoresheet, yet Calgary's Matthew Lombardi played an integral role in the Flames victory on Thursday night.
The speedy centre drew two first period penalties, each resulting in power-play goals that proved to be the difference in Calgary's 2-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche in a pivotal Northwest Division clash.
On both occasions, Lombardi darted dangerously into the Colorado zone while shorthanded and drew hooking penalties as he attempted to go around the Avalanche defence.
"That's what it's about. We're drawing penalties and our power play goes out there and scores both times," said Lombardi.
First it was Ruslan Salei that got caught flat-footed and had to haul Lombardi down. That enabled Daymond Langkow to open the scoring at 8:19.
Next, it was Jeff Finger that was forced to tug at Lombardi's stick after he got past him and moved in on goal. Craig Conroy followed making it 2-0 at 14:38, again on a rebound that goaltender Jose Theodore could not control.
"He can draw penalties back for us because of his speed," said Flames coach Mike Keenan. "He demonstrated that well tonight and that's what his speed means.
"He can draw penalties in a penalty-killing situation, and probably as importantly, come up with offensive opportunities as well without risking anything defensively."
The Flames move two points ahead of Colorado and into a tie for sixth place in the Western Conference with Vancouver, which won 4-1 in Edmonton. Both the Flames and Canucks move to within one point of Northwest Division-leading Minnesota, who play the Canucks on Friday night before continuing on to Calgary to meet the Flames on Saturday.
"This was huge for us," Lombardi said. "We're chasing Minnesota right now and those guys are doing the same. It's a good start in the right direction. We've got to keep going and keep looking forward to the next game."
After a disappointing 1-3 road trip, Calgary (38-26-10) are back on track, going 5-0-2 in their last seven at the Pengrowth Saddledome.
Ben Guite scored the lone goal for Colorado (39-30-6).
"They played their typical game," said Theodore, who had 26 stops. "They got the lead and then kind of closed the middle. We didn't have too much chances."
After a blistering stretch in which they won eight of nine, the Avalanche have lost three straight. Colorado wraps up its three-game road trip Saturday night against the Edmonton. They'll hope for the return to the line-up of Peter Forsberg (groin) and Paul Stastny (flu), who each sat out against Calgary.
"We have to come out a lot harder than we did today," said Guite. "They came out hard and we didn't match it. We just sat there watching and the next thing we knew we were down 2-0."
Calgary limited the Avalanche to just 16 shots.
"These are tough playoff games," Keenan said. "When we can shut a team down it shows that we've got a real strong committed defensive effort. For playoff competition that's what you need."
Calgary's power play, which finished 2-for-4, entered the night ranked 29th at home (13.9 per cent). It was the first time in 30 home games dating back to Oct. 30 the Flames have struck for multiple goals with the extra man.
Colorado finally got on the scoreboard in the third. With Ryan Smyth parked in front of Miikka Kiprusoff, Guite got a loose puck at the side and knocked in his 10th goal of the year at 5:52.
However, that was as close as they would get.
"Tonight was one of those games in the offensive zone we didn't get the puck," said Colorado coach Joel Quenneville. "It wasn't like the other game in Minnesota where we had the puck and were generating and making plays. Tonight it was pretty dry in generating scoring chances and making plays down in their end."
The Avalanche, owners of the NHL's worst road power play, went 0-for-4 with the extra man.
"The PK wasn't up to par and it's pretty obvious the power play wasn't either," said Guite. "We've got to find a way over these final seven games to get our groove back and then go full tilt in the playoffs".
Notes: Joe Sakic's next assist will be No. 1000 of his career making him just the 11th player to reach that mark and only active player.. Calgary's power-play had scored two or more goals in four of its first eight home games before the 29 game skid at home in which they amassed just 15 goals with the extra man.. Calgary's line-up changes included the return of C Mark Smith after being scratched the previous seven games.. Inserted into the line-up for the Avalanche after not playing the previous game was C Jaroslav Hlinka and LW Wojtek Wolski".