CALGARY – Pittsburgh was held to two goals on Saturday night but, against a struggling Calgary offence that set a record for being shutout at home, it was enough.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 27 saves to backstop the Penguins to a 2-1 victory over the Flames, handing Calgary its team record sixth consecutive home regulation loss.
“It was just nice today, to have a close, low scoring game,” said Fleury, who improved to 26-10-1. “It felt nice. The last few games were a little crazy so it’s definitely nice and it was a good battle.”
It looked for the longest time like Fleury was going to become the sixth goaltender in the last eight games to shut out the Flames before Mikael Backlund cut into a 2-0 deficit with a goal with 8:31 left in the third period.
“It’s a relief. It’s hard when you chase and chase and you get scoring chances and the puck doesn’t go in,” Backlund said. “It gets in your head a little bit. It shouldn’t but it’s natural. But as soon as you score one, everybody settles down a little bit and you feel better.”
Ending a goalless stretch at the Scotiabank Saddledome at a team record 196 minutes 59 seconds, Backlund outbattled Kris Letang for the puck and scored on a wicked slapshot from 40 feet out.
“Obviously it was nice to get a goal since we haven’t had too many at home here, lately, but we’re very disappointed that we didn’t win the game,” Backlund said.
Chris Kunitz and Matt Niskanen scored for Pittsburgh (33-12-2). The Penguins pick up five-of-six points on its three-game road trip that included a win in Vancouver and an overtime loss in Edmonton on Friday.
“The Western Canada swing, it’s always a hype-up for these games,” said Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma. “With Sidney in the building, it seems like we get the best from other teams.”
Calgary (15-24-6) is next in action Monday in Carolina as they begin a short two-game road trip that sees them also play Tuesday in Nashville.
“On the mental side, it’s good but it’s another loss,” said Flames coach Bob Hartley, relieved that his team scored but not pleased with the end result. “But I can’t fault the effort. Tonight was by far one of our best games lately.”
After the Backlund goal, with the roaring sell-out crowd of 19,289 suddenly back in the game and momentum seemingly on their side, Calgary could not get the tying goal as Pittsburgh didn’t give the Flames much to work with.
That was different than how Friday’s loss played out in Edmonton when the Penguins blew a third-period lead and lost in overtime.
“After a disappointing third period for us last night, for us it was a much better team game,” said Niskanen. “We got the 2-0 lead, same situation we were in last night and that’s something we want to get better at, playing with the lead.”
Pittsburgh took a 1-0 lead at 16:34 of the first period on a laser of a shot from Kunitz that beat Reto Berra over his shoulder and just under the cross bar.
The Penguins made it 2-0 at 6:42 of the second when Niskanen’s shot through a crowd in front squeaked through the pads of Berra.
The Flames’ 27-year-old goaltender had 24 saves including two stellar stops against Sidney Crosby less than 30 seconds apart in the first period.
With the game scoreless, first Crosby broke in from off the left wing but had his snap shot smothered. Later that shift, Kunitz’s pass sprung Crosby on a breakaway from the blue-line but again Berra showed good reflexes in stopping the close wrist shot.
Crosby also hit a goal post in seeing his seven-game points streak snapped.
Down 2-0 seven minutes into the third period, the Flames had a chance to try to get the game back to even when they got a five-minute power play after Pittsburgh defenceman Robert Bortuzzo was given a match penalty for head contact for a heavy hit along the side boards on Calgary captain Mark Giordano.
But the Flames could not click on the major, which was cut short when Mike Cammalleri took a cross-checking penalty during it. Calgary is now 1 for 26 with the man advantage in the last eight games.
“If we could have scored a couple power-play goals, we could have won the game. That was the difference,” Backlund said. “We had a few power-play opportunities and we didn’t score and it’s been like that for a while and it’s been costing us some games.”
Notes: The old mark for Calgary’s regulation losses at home was five, which happened in March 2000 … Calgary has scored just 12 goals in Berra’s last 11 starts. … Backlund’s goal ended the Flames’ overall shutout streak at 174:59, short of the team record of 182:42 set in November 2002 … Calgary RW David Jones (eye) missed his fourth game … C Joe Vitale (upper body) did not play for Pittsburgh … Pittsburgh lost centre Brian Gibbons to a lower-body injury in the first period … Pittsburgh has won seven games in a row against the Flames including the last four at the Scotiabank Saddledome … The Penguins improved to 10-2-1 against the West. Calgary is 7-8-4 against the East.