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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.

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."



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