CALGARY — Roughly half an hour after being fitted for goat horns, Mikael Backlund got the tap he didn’t see coming on Monday.
As a shootout between two of the world’s hottest goalies progressed to the seventh round, it was the Swedish veteran who got word he’d have a chance to atone for a costly penalty that prolonged the game this deep into the night.
“You’re always ready to get the call to go, but with my record 0-for-7 before today, I wasn’t expecting to get picked, really,” beamed the Calgary Flames centre.
“But when I heard my name I got excited. I just tried what I’ve been working on in practice.”
A snipe past the glove of Pittsburgh Penguins standout Tristan Jarry set the stage for fellow Swede Jacob Markstrom to close out an entertaining evening that finished with the Flames finally being able to snag the extra point with a 2-1 win.
Markstrom’s save on Brock McGinn’s attempted deke sent the crowd of 15,343 home buzzing over the first-place, 13-4-5 Flames.
“I just checked a little bit before, kind of where he’s been letting goals in,” said Backlund of his pre-shot prep.
“I tried that move in practice and I scored on Marky. I figured if I can score on Marky, I can do it on this guy too. It felt great, though. Home ice, too. Enjoyed the moment.”
The moment was especially sweet, not just because the Flames had previously dropped five of six after regulation this season, but because he felt chiefly responsible for the Penguins’ lone goal.
“It was really tough… stupid penalty,” said Backlund of an interference penalty next to Jarry’s crease that resulted in a Jake Guentzel power-play goal seven seconds later.
“My emotions got the best of me in front of the net. It’s tough to go to the box when we are up one late in the game. When they scored, it was tough.
“I was excited to get the chance to redeem myself.”
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Backlund had played a heck of a game before that, doing well to help keep Sidney Crosby shot-less before a solid overtime showing in which the Flames could have won several times.
“Funny, Mikael scores the shootout winner, but he’s probably our best 3-on-3 guy too,” said coach Darryl Sutter, who moved his threesomes around to include Backlund on his second trio with Johnny Gaudreau and Chris Tanev.
“Trying to do something different. It’s one part of our game that obviously we don’t have that guy who can go end to end or go through guys. So just trying to get something that fits.”
If not for Jarry’s spectacular outing, which included 31 saves, the Flames would have won this one long before overtime.
Johnny Gaudreau, whose top line was sublime all night, rang two off the iron, including one in overtime. His was the only one of the first six shootout attempts by the Flames to beat Jarry — a high, glove side snipe much like Backlund’s.
The only man to beat Jarry in regulation was Milan Lucic, who took a good-natured ribbing earlier in the day when Flames players were asked about idolizing Crosby as youngsters.
So many kids crowd around the rink when Sid shows up. Adorable pic.twitter.com/ejryxJraxa
— Eric Francis (@EricFrancis) November 30, 2021
“When I was nine or 10 years old, I came to the Dome to watch (Crosby) in pre-game skate — it was pretty cool,” said Dillon Dube, 23, who casually turned his trip down memory lane to the man sitting next to him.
“But it’s even cooler playing with Milan Lucic, who was by far my favourite player when I was 10 years old. It’s better sitting beside him.”
It drew instant chuckles from Lucic, who got the last laugh later in the evening when his goal midway through the second period, a five-hole snipe past Jarry, looked like it might just stand up as the winner.
“I was actually looking to move that to (Trevor Lewis) but him and (Mike) Matheson got tied up there, so I was in a good scoring area there. I shot as hard as I could along the ice between the legs, like I have before, and it went in again.”
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It has become his signature move, as half of his six snipes this year have come that way.
Would he have gone five-hole if he was picked for the shootout?
“No, I definitely would have mixed it up if I got the tap on the shoulder,” he laughed.
“I think I’m around the 12, 13 slot (for shootouts). You know what, on breakaways I’m pretty good, but for whatever reason I’m 0-for-3 on shootouts. But I get excited around the 12 or 13 mark.”
Earlier in the day, Lucic’s first comments on his game-ending boarding major from Saturday on Winnipeg’s Dylan DeMelo were interesting.
“Forechecking on the play and we made eye contact,” he said.
“He looked at me, I looked at him. He knew I was coming and he put himself in a bad spot.
“I’ll tell you what, there’s guys that have said thank you to me because I’ve seen them in vulnerable positions and I haven’t finished them.”
Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.
There’s responsibility on hitters to not hit guys in vulnerable positions. But there’s also responsibility on players to not put themselves into vulnerable positions.
“I think DeMelo put himself into a vulnerable spot.
“The rulebook states if it’s a boarding call and if a guy is cut, it’s automatically five and a game. That’s why it was five and a game.”