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Updated: November 27th, 2011 9:13pm
Niklas Backstrom blitzed as Wild drop second straight division game

Niklas Backstrom blitzed as Wild drop second straight division game

by Jess Myers
1500ESPN.com
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St. Paul, Minn. - Regular goalie Niklas Backstrom made his way back to the net for the Minnesota Wild on Sunday evening, but not for long. The Calgary Flames blitzed Backstrom early, and his replacement, Josh Harding, later.

The result was the Wild's second consecutive loss, and another costly loss in the Northwest Division, as the Flames snapped a three-game losing streak, winning 5-2.

Cal Clutterbuck scored early for the Wild, giving them a brief 1-0 lead, and Nick Johnson tied the game 2-2 at one point, but the home team highlights were few.

One highlight that may come back to haunt the Wild came after Flames captain Jarome Iginla scored the game's final goal, giving Calgary a 5-2 lead. Skating past the Wild bench, Iginla admits winking at the home team, and in return, he got squirted in the face by a water bottle. The Wild were assessed a two-minute bench penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The skinny

Youth hockey coaches stress to their players that you win as a team and you lose as a team. And Sunday was definitely the latter for the Wild, when so many positive early signs turned into so much disappointment by the end.

"As a unit of five we've got to be smart getting the puck out of our own end," said forward Matt Cullen, who has been one of the bright spots for the team recently. "When we're playing well we're coming up the ice together as five and tonight we weren't sharp that way. We were not making crisp passes, we were not smart with our positioning and we spent too much time in our own end."

And in their end, the trouble might have started before the first puck was dropped. The pregame featured a lengthy and moving tribute to former Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard, who died over the summer at 28, and Backstom (one of Boogaard's best friends on the team) admitted afterward that the emotions may have affected his work between the pipes.

"You have to find a way to play, one way or another," Backstrom said. "But I have to say, it was tough. Really tough."

The Flames score three goals on just eight shots sent Backstrom's way, before Wild coach Mike Yeo pulled the starter. Yeo said that the loss had nothing to do with the Boogaard tribute, but lots to do with other things in his team's heads.

"Things unraveled awfully fast, and we couldn't get it back," Yeo said, taking some grim solace in the opinion that his team could hardly turn in a worse 60-minute effort. "It was between the ears. We went into this game thinking about the result. Thinking about the outcome. We played like we were afraid to lose, we were afraid to make a play."

He added that for all the talk in the past week about the Wild leading the division and (for a few days anyway) having the best record in the NHL, bumps in the road like this one were to be anticipated. For the Flames, the win was a sign of hope that despite their current spot in the cellar of the Northwest Division, catching the first-place Wild is not an impossible dream.

"Nobody's happy with where we're at in the standings, but nobody's giving up. The Wild have had a great first 20 games, and it feels good to come in here and beat them when they're playing well," said Iginla. "People think it's over after 22 games and we don't believe it is, so this is definitely a big boost, to be able to break out goals against this team."

Turning point

The Wild trailed 3-2 at the start of the third, but had snapped off 10 shots in the middle period and seemed within striking distance of a tie or even re-taking the lead. Harding, on in relief of Backstrom, had stopped everything that the Flames had sent his way, but his miscue led to the dagger that all but sealed a Flames win.

A long dump-in shot was played by Harding, who was pressured by Lee Stempniak, and fired the puck around the boards behind the net. It went directly to the stick of Alex Tanguay on the far boards, and the Flames winger was able to snap the puck into the net before Harding could get back in position.

Numbers game

• 162:12: Backstrom's shutout streak versus the Flames, dating back to Dec. 20, 2010, prior to Mark Giordano's first period goal on Sunday.
• 1: Career goals for Flames rookie defenseman T.J. Brodie, after his first period attempt to pass across the front of the Wild net ended up beating Backstrom.
• 32: Career goals by Iginla versus the Wild, making him the all-time leading scorer against Minnesota.
• 0-6-3: The Wild's record when allowing three or more goals. They are 13-1-0 when holding an opponent to two goals or less.

Health watch

Defenseman Mike Lundin has yet to make his season debut for the Wild due to the back spasms that have plagued him since September, but he's getting closer. He's now been recalled from his rehab stint in Houston, and on Sunday night Lundin even skated in warm-ups before being listed as a late scratch. It looks highly likely that Lundin will finally skate for the Wild on Monday night versus his former employer, Tampa Bay. Defenseman Justin Falk was banged up after Sunday's game, and Yeo admitted that fact increased the chances that Lundin will be in the Monday lineup.

Summary

First period
Wild - Cal Clutterbuck 6 (Koivu, Heatley), 1:57, PPG
Flames - Mark Giordano 4 (unassisted), 4:37
Flames - Lee Stempniak 5 (Backlund, Butler), 6:54
Wild - Nick Johnson 3 (Brodziak), 8:06
Flames - T.J. Brodie 1 (Jokinen, Stajan), 8:45

Second period
No scoring

Third period
Flames - Alex Tanguay 4 (unassisted), 1:39
Flames - Jarome Iginla 7 (Glencross, Jokinen), 8:26


Shots: Wild 7-10-4-21; Flames 15-11-9-35. Saves: Wild, Niklas Backstrom (5-8), Josh Harding (25-27); Flames, Miikka Kiprusoff (19-21). Power plays: Wild 1-for-5, Flames 0-3.

Three stars
1. Jarome Iginla
2. Lee Stempniak
3. Cal Clutterbuck

Coming up

An old friend comes to town on Monday when the Tampa Bay Lightning make their only visit to St. Paul this season. The folks who brought the Stanley Cup to Florida in 2004 made a strong case for the trophy last spring as well, going all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals thanks to strong goaltending by former Wild All-Star Dwayne Roloson.

Jess Myers covers the Wild and college hockey for 1500ESPN.com. He is a member of the editorial advisory board for USA Hockey Magazine.
Email Jess | @JessRMyers
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