Backstrom, Wild blank Flames

ST. PAUL, Minnesota (AP) — The Minnesota Wild are fully aware
that one more loss could ruin them.

That much was evident by the inspired desperation they showed
Friday night.

The Wild finally figured out Miikka Kiprusoff with three goals
on 10 shots in the first period of a 4-0 victory over the
Calgary Flames that kept their slim playoff chances alive.

Andrew Brunette, Cal Clutterbuck and Owen Nolan scored in the
first for the 10th-place Wild, who moved within two points of
idle eighth-place St. Louis and the postseason cutoff in the
Western Conference.

“I think the desperation in our game was evident in the first
period,” Clutterbuck said. “This was it for us as far as playoff
chances. We wanted to get it, and we got it.”

Marian Gaborik polished things off in the third period, and
Niklas Backstrom made 27 saves for his team-record eighth
shutout of the season, the second most in the NHL.

Kiprusoff made 24 saves and was briefly pulled by coach Mike
Keenan in the first period. The short-handed Flames fell to 2-10
on the second game of a back-to-back.

“We needed a little bit of a timeout to get things stabilized,”
Keenan said. “We didn’t start the game assertive enough. We were
a little bit on our heels.”

The Wild came into the game practically needing to win its five
remaining contests to have a shot at the playoffs. They got off
to a good start against a goaltender that has dominated them
throughout his career and a division rival they had yet to beat
all season.

Kiprusoff was 24-6-1-2 against Minnesota with a 1.79
goals-against average and a .931 save percentage, and his Flames
beat the Wild in all five previous meetings this season.

“We haven’t really had any success against them this season,”
Clutterbuck said. “So it was important to get on them early.”

Brunette opened the scoring by tipping in a slap shot from Marek
Zidlicky to snap an 0-for-9 drought on the power play.

The next trip into the Calgary zone, Clutterbuck pounced on a
loose puck to Kiprusoff’s right and zipped a wrist shot through
the five-hole for a 2-0 lead. That’s when Keenan abruptly yanked
his top goaltender and inserted Curtis McElhinney — sort of.

READ ALSO:  Canadiens forward Lapierre, defenceman Schneider undergo surgery

Kiprusoff was out for all of 12 seconds. Keenan had a few words
for him on the bench, and sent him back in at the next stoppage.

“I was surprised,” Kiprusoff said. “And going back in, I think
we all know Mike — sometimes he just tries to wake the team up.
I just have to be ready, and it didn’t work out tonight.”

It was a typical head game that the hard-nosed Keenan has played
with his goaltenders for years.

“He does that,” Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. “He specializes
in that.”

If the move was meant to settle Kiprusoff down and clear his
head, it didn’t work. He spent the rest of the period flopping
on his belly to chase pucks and giving up big rebounds. Nolan
capped the period with a light slap shot that somehow squeezed
under Kiprusoff’s arm for a 3-0 lead, and the Wild coasted the
rest of the way.

For the first time in recent memory, Lemaire beamed and raved
about his team’s play, lauding the skating and puck movement
while saying he was “proud of what he was seeing.”

“We’re fighting for our lives here,” Brunette said.

Calgary dressed only 16 players for this game. Defensemen Robyn
Regehr and Adrian Aucoin were injured in Thursday night’s
playoff-clinching victory at Dallas and were sorely missed in
the first period of this one.

Emergency callups John Negrin and Matt Pelech made their NHL
debuts, but the Flames just didn’t have much juice after
outshooting the Wild 40-15 in a 3-2 victory in Calgary last

It’s not a good sign for Calgary, which has two more
back-to-backs to finish the season and is tied with
hard-charging Vancouver for the Northwest Division lead.

“It was a big game for us, too,” Kiprusoff said. “So, it’s no
excuses. We didn’t play that well.”