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Tabby's the Saving Grace

By Bill Davidson
December 13, 1997
After spending the last couple of weeks watching Canada's alpine male skiers not perform at Whistler and the women not perform very well at Lake Louise, it seemed like an appropriate time to drop into the 'Dome and observe those other guys on that other slippery slope.
Nope, more like a Chinook and, instead of being buried by the Katja Seizingers of the NHL's Pacific Division, the Flames continued their hottest streak of the year, posting a 3-1 victory over the Colorado Avs last night.
That's a season-high three wins in a row, five of their last eight and, with three home games next week, these Young Guns have an excellent opportunity to continue digging themselves out of the deep do.
Hey, maybe there really is a sanity clause around here, and does anyone know the biggest reason for this turnaround?
The major factor is the play of goaltender Rick Tabaracci, everybody's Flame of the Month for November and, arguably, playing even better in December.
Goalies, of course, get paid to stop the puck. It's that simple, even if it's not that easy.
Don't agree? Name one championship team, or even a contender, that didn't have a great goaltender. Hockey teams without great puck stoppers are like touring pro golfers who can't putt. No finish, you're finished.
Tabaracci was nothing short of sensational, not to mention a little lucky, and if they gave points to individuals, he'd have two in his pocket this morning. Two point-blank second-period saves off the sticks of Alexei Gusarov and Claude Lemieux come to mind.
Of course, you've got to score once in a while, something the Flames are starting to do, witness those 10 goals in their last three road games.
They scored another three last night, although it didn't seem like it.
The first one came courtesy Avs defenceman John Klemm, who tripped over his own blueline and coughed up the puck, Marty McInnis feeding Cory Stillman for the pretty freebee. The second was one of those win-the-draw-and-in-the-net, Theoren Fleury beating buddy Joe Sakic clean as a whistle, Jarome Iginla finishing it off, and the third an empty-netter by German Titov.
The Flames never really seemed to get untracked until Adam Deadmarsh tied it for the Avs midway through the final period.
The much-maligned powerplay -- now two-for-57 -- is still much-maligned and getting more rancid every couple of minutes.
Without a plethora of goal scorers, or at the very least three or four shooters who can pull the powerplay trigger with some regularity, all the goaltending in the world won't do it over the long haul and get these Young Guns into the playoffs.
One thing about these Flames though, they are seldom out-worked or "out-chanced," one of the team's buzzwords this year.
They couldn't really say that last night but, thanks to Tabaracci in the first 40 minutes, they'll take the two points and prepare for the Chicago Blackhawks here Tuesday.
Nine wins in 34 starts is hardly reason to plan a parade, but they are moving in the right direction.
Besides, the one saving grace is that the Flames aren't alone -- there is plenty of mediocrity in the Pacific, which is another way of saying this playoff Turtle Derby is far from over.

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