CALGARY – If it were up to him, Niklas Backstrom would have returned to action with the Minnesota Wild a lot sooner.
Backstrom showed no ill effects of the hip injury that kept him sidelined for the past nine games as he stopped all 37 shots he faced to lead the Wild to a 6-0 win over the Calgary Flames on Wednesday.
“You have to be smart,” said Backstrom, who has compiled an 8-1-1 record in his last 10 games against the Flames. “It’s good to have a training staff like we have. They tell you when you’re ready to go out there because as a player you don’t want to miss a single day, a single practice or a game. It was a long, tough couple weeks to sit in the locker-room and watch the games.”
While Baclstrom was on the sidelines, rookie goaltender Anton Khudobin helped the Wild (24-18-5) compile a 6-3 record and climb back into contention in the NHL’s Western Conference.
“The guys have been playing really well,” Backstrom said. “It’s been fun to watch and it makes you hungry to come back.”
Martin Havlat had two goals and an assist for the Wild, which pulled within a point of the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the west.
“It’s a tight race,” said Wild forward Chuck Kobasew, who scored a goal and set up another. “Every win helps, but at the end of the night you look at the standings and most teams are winning. You’ve got to do that on a consistent basis and hopefully we can continue that.”
John Madden and Cal Clutterbuck also had a goal and an assist each, while Kyle Brodziak added three assists. Mikko Koivu scored once, while Andrew Brunette had a pair of assists.
After returning home from a 2-0-2 road trip, the Flames (20-21-6) failed to muster much of an attack against the Wild at home. When they did, Backstrom was there to thwart their scoring opportunities.
“It was one of those games we never had our ‘A’ game here tonight, bottom line,” said Calgary coach Brent Sutter. “They did take advantage of the opportunities they had. I didn’t think we were very good defensively. We gave up several quality chances in our own zone and on the rush.”
Miikka Kiprusoff stopped 18 shots in the Calgary net.
Havlat opened the scoring at 3:25 of the first period when he blasted a shot over Kiprusoff’s left pad. Brodziak made a nice diving play to chip the puck out into the slot for Havlat.
Minnesota made it 2-0 on a power-play goal by Koivu, who took a pass from Matt Cullen before snapping a shot through traffic past a screened Kiprusoff.
“Getting that first goal and then one the power play was a huge, huge lift for us,” said Minnesota coach Todd Richards. “We gave up some opportunities, but despite the shots, I think a lot of them were from out. Nik did great job. He was big, he was in control. When there were rebounds we fought hard in front of him.”
Calgary had a great chance to pull to within a goal when captain Jarome Iginla made a nice pass to Brendan Morrison, but he fanned on his attempt to swat the puck past Backstrom.
Early in the second, the Flames killed off a five-minute boarding penalty to Curtis Glencross but couldn’t build off of that momentum.
“We killed that penalty and we got two power plays after that,” Sutter said. “We need our power play to produce at that point in time. We gained some momentum off of that (kill) and we need our power play to really step up at that point in time and generate something for us.”
Late in the second, Brunette worked hard behind the Calgary net to get the puck out to the slot to Madden, who fired a shot past Kiprusoff.
At 2:48 of the third, Clutterbuck scored his team-leading 14th goal of the season when his long shot from just inside the blue-line beat Kiprusoff to the short side over the Calgary goalie’s right shoulder.
Calgary defenceman Adam Pardy nearly got the Flames on the board a short time later, but his hard shot glanced off the right post behind Backstrom.
Kobasew then added to the onslaught when the former Flame swatted a rebound past Kiprusoff while falling to the ice. Havlat rounded out the scoring by finishing off a nice three-way passing play with Clutterbuck and Brodziak.
NOTES: Calgary forward Tom Kostopoulos served the fifth gameof his six-game suspension for his high hit Jan. 7 that broke the jaw of Detroit defenceman Brad Stuart.…Minnesota is now 20-2-4 when scoring the game’s first goal.…The Wild, who also beat the Oilers 4-1 on Tuesday night in Edmonton, now has a 2-6-3 record in the second game of back-to-back affairs. Minnesota will play back-to-back games eight more times this season.