Henrik Karlsson so befuddled his former Abbotsford Heat teammates on Friday, they were reminiscing about 1980s cartoon characters in an effort to make sense of some of the saves he made.
The towering netminder turned in a spectacular 33-save effort as the Rockford IceHogs won 5-2 at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
“It seemed like he had a go-go gadget arm,” Heat centre Ben Street mused, alluding to the classic after-school cartoon Inspector Gadget to describe a pair of stunning stops Karlsson made on him during the second period.
“I guess for him that’s the benefit of being 6-foot-6.”
Karlsson, who made four appearances with the Heat last season, was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks (the IceHogs’ parent club) on Jan. 21 after losing a battle with Leland Irving for the Calgary Flames backup job.
He was the difference in Rockford’s win on Friday, and if he felt like he had a point to prove to his old organization, he wasn’t letting on.
“It was fun to see a couple of guys I played with in Calgary before, but other than that, it wasn’t anything special,” he said.
“They (the Heat) played good. They were circling around, creating a lot of things in our zone, and we were lucky to get a couple of goals (early). But they kept going, and it was a tough game for us.”
Indeed, Abbotsford dominated the first two periods, only to watch the IceHogs build a 4-0 lead against the run of play while Karlsson stymied them repeatedly at the other end.
Rockford opened the scoring at 7:23 of the first period, courtesy Brandon Svendsen’s second goal of the season. Svendsen came cruising down the right wing and beat Heat goalie Barry Brust with a high blocker-side wrist shot.
The hosts owned the balance of the opening frame, but Karlsson – and defenceman Steve Montador – came up with big saves to preserve the lead.
Montador, like Karlsson a former Flame, bailed out his keeper by denying Sven Baertschi from point-blank range. With Karlsson out of position and the puck on Baertschi’s stick in the slot, Montador dropped into the butterfly position in the crease and blocked the shot.
“I was so pumped to make that, because he (Karlsson) saved me a handful of other times,” Montador said with a chuckle. “I mean, he stood on his head tonight for us. There’s no way we’d win at all with the way we played, with the amount of breakaways we gave up and the amount of shots they had. They played hard.”
Karlsson came up with a nice stop of his own shortly thereafter, kicking out his left pad to deny Brett Olson from close range.
Then, with 10 seconds left in the opening stanza, Rockford made it 2-0. The forward trio of Martin St. Pierre, Rostislav Olesz and Ben Smith exchanged a series of tic-tac-toe passes that ended with St. Pierre feathering the puck across the goalmouth to Olesz at the right post for what would have been an easy tap-in. Olesz’s stick was tied up, but the puck went off his skate and back to St. Pierre, who flicked a shot past a prone Brust.
Montador made it 3-0 early in the second period, hammering home a one-timed slapper on the power play. That spelled the end of Brust’s night – he got the hook in favour of Danny Taylor.
At the other end of the ice, Karlsson continued to stand on his head. On a Heat man advantage, he stoned Street on two similar-looking plays, using his right arm/blocker to parry one-timers by the Abby centre that looked like sure goals.
“I really don’t know a whole lot more what I would have done, aside from maybe catching it and trying to roof it,” Street mused. “But I didn’t want to give him time to get across the net.
“You can’t ask for much better chances than that. Usually I bury those but tonight it didn’t go for me.”
Street’s shift from hell got even worse after IceHogs forward Brad Mills snuck away on a shorthanded breakaway – Street was forced to haul him down, and Mills befuddled Taylor with a slick backhander on the ensuing penalty shot.
The Heat finally opened the scoring on an unlikely sequence, as Carter Bancks had two breakaways on the same penalty kill.
Karlsson hung with Bancks on the first breakaway, inducing the Heat forward to rip a shot over the net, but the Bancks made good on the second attempt. He picked the top corner over the Rockford goalie’s glove to make it 4-1.
Greg Nemisz’s third goal of the year, with 36 seconds left in the second, ignited hopes of a comeback. But Olesz put the game on ice in the third, swatting a rebound past Taylor with 5:58 remaining.
“The 22nd of March, but it feels like it’s been the same day for the last month-and-a-half,” Heat head coach Troy Ward said, making reference to his team’s epic struggles to put the puck in the net.
“Hank played really well. He made some great saves, especially taking away the low part of the net. Some of our looks that’s all we could get. But at the same time sometimes we’re a team that, in fairness to our team, we can make the other goalie look pretty good. You have to put it two ways: he played well but sometimes our looks are what they were and don’t make much of them and that’s been part of our problem in the second half.”
Friday’s game was one the Heat could ill afford to lose – they were on the wrong side of the playoff bubble to begin with, and every other Western Conference team has games in hand on them.
Now, with a 29-28-9 record for 67 points, they sit 11th in the conference, two spots below Rockford (33-28-2, 68 points). The two teams renew hostilities on Saturday (7 p.m., AESC).
“We have 10 games left,” said Street. “We might need to go 10-for-10. The urgency is in the room.”
Montador, a member of the Flames’ 2004 Stanley Cup finals team, was playing his third game with the IceHogs after spending over a year on the sideline due to a concussion.
The goal, plus the pivotal shot-block in the first period, indicate he’s on his way back.
“It’s been tumultuous, a roller-coaster for me,” said Montador, reflecting on his concussion convalescence. “But the last couple months has been really promising and exciting.
“I’ve had a lot of gratitude, because I’ve been able to get back skating – that was a victory in and of itself. Then skating with the Hawks and then getting to play here, things are working out the way they’re supposed to. I’m really excited with where I’m at right now.”
• The Heat were without defenceman Chris Breen (upper body injury) and Mike Testwuide (second game of a three-game suspension) on Friday.