CALGARY – With the Calgary Flames getting two key points in the Western Conference playoff race, Mikael Backlund could laugh off the embarrassing mistake that almost let the San Jose Sharks back in the game.
The Flames moved into a tie with Detroit for eighth place in the West with a 4-3 win over the struggling Sharks on Friday.
Backlund set up goals two minutes apart by Nigel Dawes and Eric Nystrom as Calgary opened up a 4-1 lead. But it was the Swedish rookie’s gaffe that led San Jose on the comeback trail.
While attempting to pin the puck against Miikka Kiprusoff to get a whistle, Backlund accidentally slid the puck under the Flames goalie and across the crease, where it was whacked into the empty net by Manny Malhotra at 12:01.
“We just had a shift and then we had an icing so I had to stay out there and I was just so tired. We finally got the puck and I was just trying to get it to Kipper to freeze it,” said Backlund. “It was a little embarrassing but nothing you can do about it.”
With Sharks netminder Evgeni Nabokov pulled for an extra skater, Dan Boyle scored at 18:09 to set up a dramatic finish.
Jarome Iginla and Daymond Langkow also scored for Calgary (36-26-9), which has won six of its last eight. The Flames pulled even with Detroit after the Red Wings fell 2-1 to Edmonton in a shootout.
Dany Heatley added his 37th goal of the season for the Sharks (43-18-10), who have lost four in a row in regulation and have seen their lead atop the Pacific Division cut to three points by the hard-charging Phoenix Coyotes. Both teams have 11 games remaining.
“Phoenix is on a bit of hot streak right now but we’re still first in the Western Conference and if anything, we’ve got to look at it that way,” said Sharks winger Ryane Clowe. “We’re obviously a good hockey team, we’ve put ourselves into a good position, we just have to get out of this and bounce back.”
The Sharks are tied with Chicago atop the Western Confernece with 96 points. Both teams have played 71 games.
“As coaches, we’re walking a fine line right now whether we’re kicking or hugging,” said Sharks coach Todd McLellan. “I think some guys need a kick and I think some guys need a hug and we’re finding out which ones need which.”
Things have been especially bad for San Jose on the road of late. The Sharks have dropped six of their last seven away from home since reeling off an eight-game road winning streak.
“Teams see that we’ve lost four or five games in a row and any time that happens, a team is vulnerable,” McLellan said. “You can feel the confidence in our room isn’t what it should be or can be but we’ve got to earn that back.”
With Calgary leading 2-1, Nabokov got his pad on Backlund’s hard shot, but Dawes was right there to backhand in his 11th goal and first in 21 games. It had been over three months since Dawes’ last goal on Dec. 17.
Nystrom’s goal came on a similar play.
“Before the game, I heard (Nabokov) was a little shaky on his pads so they told us put the pucks on net. I was trying to get pucks to the net and it worked out pretty good, I was happy to see those guys put the rebounds in,” said Backlund.
Backlund had been a healthy scratch the past six games before drawing into the line-up against the Sharks due to an injury to Curtis Glencross. His first career multi-point game gives him a goal and four assists in 12 games this season.
Kiprusoff finished the night with 25 saves while Nabokov had 20 stops.
Nabokov has struggled since the Olympic break having given up 26 goals in eight starts.
“We’re a little big fragile, we’re a little bit on our heals, but it’s those timely stops that’s killing us,” said Nabokov. “I have to work hard to make those saves for the guys.”
One of the loudest moments of the night came in the final seconds of the second period when Iginla dropped the gloves with rugged Sharks winger Ryane Clowe.
The spirited scrap drew a standing ovation from the sell-out crowd of 19,289, which began chants of “Iggy, Iggy, Iggy” afterwards.
The Flames got off to a fast start, taking advantage of a pair of San Jose defensive lapses to take a 2-0 lead nine minutes into the game.
Heatley trimmed the lead at 2:41 of the second period, ending a personal four-game goalless drought.
“As a group, we’re not playing very well,” said Heatley. “We’re making mistakes, we’re taking penalties, it’s a group thing. We seem to go down 1-0 or 2-0 every night and it’s hard to come back in this league when you do that every night.”
Notes: San Jose last lost four in a row in regulation Feb. 28 to March 7 of last season. The Sharks also went winless in five games earlier in the season from Dec. 3-12. … Glencross (knee) joined Chris Higgins (lower body) on the sidelines. … San Jose had fired 33 or more shots on goal in six of its previous seven games. … When Dawes last scored, he was tied for second on the team in goals. Now he ranks seventh.