CALGARY - With their playoff hopes flickering, the Calgary Flames have found a late-season spark with the return of Daymond Langkow.
The veteran forward returned to Calgary’s lineup last Friday for the first time since suffering a broken vertebrae in his neck in March 2010. Langkow had an assist in that game as the Flames (40-29-11) edged the St. Louis Blues 3-2 to stay in the post-season picture.
“I feel great physically, better than expected,”said Langkow, who also suited up for Calgary’s 2-1 road win over the Colorado Avalanche Sunday in Denver.“I thought I was going to be a little more sore after the two games. I feel really good and I’m looking forward to (Wednesday) night.”
Calgary is one point back of Chicago in a tight race for the final Western Conference playoff spot, but the Blackhawks have two games in hand.
The Flames are looking to finish the season with wins at home against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday and the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday. Even with the two victories, the Flames still need the Anaheim Ducks, Chicago and the Dallas Stars to slump considerably in the final week of the regular season.
“It’s kind of a long shot, but you never know,”said Langkow, who would love to keep playing into the post-season.“We win (Wednesday) and maybe put a little more pressure on Chicago. There’s still a chance even though it’s slim. We just have to win these next two games and you never know what can happen.”
Langkow suffered the injury on March 21, 2010 during a road game against the Minnesota Wild when a point shot by then teammate Ian White struck him at the base of his neck. While he anticipated an early return to the lineup, those hopes were dashed when he felt numbness and tingling throughout his body.
“We didn’t know for sure if he’d ever play again,”said Calgary captain Jarome Iginla, who was chosen 11th overall by the Dallas Stars in the 1995 draft, six spots after the Tampa Bay Lightning selected Langkow.“We didn’t know exactly how he was feeling. We knew it was obviously pretty scary and a lot of question marks.”
Langkow, 34, told team doctors in February that the tingling had finally subsided and that he was ready to get in shape for the stretch drive.
“It was very special,”said Langkow of return against St. Louis.“I was very anxious the day before. I just wanted to get on the ice and get going. It felt great. I was a little more nervous than I wanted to be, but having not played in so long, that was to be expected. Overall it was good.”
Calgary coach Brent Sutter said he was surprised to see how quickly Langkow adapted to the pace of play and even rewarded him with some playing time alongside Iginla and Alex Tanguay.
“Obviously it’s a tremendous thing and it’s good to see him come back and be at the level that he is, because it’s a tough situation,”Sutter said.“It really only took him about a period to get into the flow of it. That’s what an intelligent player that understands the game can do.”
Iginla was so happy to have his teammate back in the lineup that he scored twice and had an assist to become the 77th player in NHL history to reach 1,000 points.
“Just to have him back period, we were happy for him, happy for his family and that was a big boost,”Iginla said.“We’ve definitely missed him this season. We’ve had some guys totally step up, but it would have been nice to have him in the mix too.”
Langkow even teamed up with Iginla to set up Tanguay for his 20th goal of the season during his triumphant return.
“What a story, how can you deny it,”Tanguay said.“The guy has been through a very difficult time for the last year with the injury. I’m sure mentally the time was very difficult on him. It goes to show that he’s a true professional. He worked extremely hard at getting back and it paid off. We’re certainly glad to have him on our side.”
Langkow's dedication has not gone unnoticed outside the Flames organization. He has been nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy—awarded annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
“It was not obviously something I was thinking about or expecting, but I definitely appreciate it,”Langkow said.