It was a nice gesture by the Calgary Flames to give veteran goaltender Niklas Backstrom the final start of the season, which happened to be in his old stomping grounds of Minnesota. Backstrom played just over 400 games with the Wild and at 38 years of age, it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll be back in the National Hockey League next season.
But Backstrom was a massive difference-maker for a Flames roster full of youthful exuberance tonight, making 35 saves en route to a 2-1 comeback victory to close out the 2015-16 season.
The Flames were, uh, tentative in the first period. Sean Monahan barely played and left after the period due to an injury. As a result, Bob Hartley seemed to shuffle lines to figure out a solution. They never really clicked in the first. Shots were 13-5 and attempts were 28-11, both for Minnesota.
The game was a bit more energetic in the second, but the Flames weren’t nearly crisp enough. The Wild pressed a bit but couldn’t score on any of their good chances, but then they scored two-thirds through the period. Zac Dalpe chucked a puck on net from a bad angle and beat Backstrom inside the far post to make it 1-0. Shots were 18-6 Minnesota and attempts were 30-10 Minnesota.
The Flames came out with energy in the third, seemingly not wanting to get stomped on their last game of the season. They finally broke through with about six minutes left in the period. On a nice shift by the fourth line, Turner Elson and Drew Shore teamed with Brandon Bollig to generate the tying goal: Elson beat the Wild defenders to a loose puck (on an attempted Wild clear), cycling the puck back to Shore, who fed Bollig to make it 1-1. On the very next shift, Patrick Sieloff scored his first NHL goal. It’s one he’ll probably exaggerate – he skated in and shot it on net, and it bonked in off Darcy Kuemper’s skate. The Wild pulled the goalie late but couldn’t score, and the Flames won 2-1. Shots were 14-5 and attempts were 18-10, both for the Flames.
WHY THE FLAMES WON
The Flames had a bit more energy than the Wild in the final period and didn’t seem to sit back as the game wore on. They took tons of penalties, but their penalty kill was pretty effective and Niklas Backstrom played a great game aside from the weak goal by Dalpe.
And despite missing a ton of regulars, the Flames seemed content just to play their game. Despite getting a bunch of shots on net, the Wild never seemed particularly strong and lacked a killer instinct.
I’m sentimental, but let’s give it to Niklas Backstrom. In what’s probably his last game, he gave the Flames a performance to be proud of. He made 35 saves and was pretty strong over the first two periods, keeping the Flames in the game.
And for the roles they were asked to perform, Oliver Kylington, Patrick Sieloff and Turner Elson were all pretty effective. Elson, in particular, did a good job on the play leading up to the tying goal.
THE RACE TO THE BOTTOM
The Flames finish the 2015-16 season with 77 points. Pending the results of the Winnipeg/Los Angeles game, the Flames will finish 25th overall (or 6th-last in the inverse standings).
The Flames are off tomorrow, and then it’s the annual rite of Garbage Bag Day on Monday down at the Scotiabank Saddledome.