April 22nd, 2024

Backlund reaches career milestone in 5-2 win over Canadiens minus coach St-Louis

By Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press on March 16, 2024.

Calgary Flames' Mikael Backlund (11) celebrates his second goal against the Montreal Canadiens with teammate Jonathan Huberdeau (10) during second period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, March 16, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal

Calgary Flames’ captain Mikael Backlund scored twice to reach a career milestone in a 5-2 win over the visiting Montreal Canadiens who were without head coach Martin St-Louis on Saturday.

Backlund scored his 199th and 200th career goals, and all of them with the Flames, to become the second Swedish-born skater in franchise history to hit 200 and join Kent Nilsson (229). The 35-year-old became the 11th player in franchise history to reach 200.

“I’ve put in a lot of work in my life to get to the NHL and to be able to score 200 goals, it’s very special,” Backlund said.

“I got close there in early January scoring 196 and 197 or something like that. It seemed to take forever to get to 200, so it feels really good to get it. Special to get all the goals here in Calgary, too. Some good company here in the organization’s history.”

The centre also had an assist for a three-point night. Nazem Kadri had a goal and an assist, and Martin Pospisil and Daniil Miromanov also scored for Calgary (33-29-5).

Calgary moved to six points back of the idle Vegas Golden Knights holding down the Western Conference’s final wild-card spot.

The Flames remained in distant playoff contention with 15 games remaining in their regular season, but they were racing both the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues to supplant the Knights.

“Win our next game, and honestly, we’ve been that way all year long,” Flames coach Ryan Huska said. “If we can find a way to win our next game, then we stay relevant, I guess you can say.”

Dustin Wolf made 36 saves for his second straight win since Calgary’s No. 1 Jacob Markstrom was labelled day-to-day Tuesday with a lower-body injury.

Flames defenceman Mackenzie Weegar contributed three assists and winger Jonathan Huberdeau two.

David Savard and Cole Caufield scored for Montreal (25-31-11).

The Canadiens announced just over an hour before puck drop that St-Louis will be absent from the team indefinitely because of family reasons, and that assistant Trevor Letowski will serve as assistant coach.

“It’s an emotional time, there’s no question, but you just have to dig in and just grind it out,” Letowski said after his NHL head-coaching debut at the Saddledome. “We have a job to do to fill some big shoes with Marty’s absence and tried everything we could to do that I think.

“Being a former player in the league, I would say, you lean on that a bit because you can’t be around this league, whether you’re in coaching or if you’re a player without, usually, constant adversity and ups and downs. I thought we had handled it as well as we could.”

Montreal’s starting goalie Cayden Primeau turned away 23 of 28 shots in the loss.

The Flames led 3-0 by 7:41 of the second period, but the visitors made it a one-goal game heading into third.

The hosts pulled away again when Kadri and Miromanov scored in the first four minutes of the period. Miromanov collected his second in the five games since he was acquired from Vegas at the trade deadline.

Kadri scored a power-play goal 61 seconds into the third. Montreal’s Savard made it a one-goal game with 95 seconds remaining in the second period. Caufield put the Canadiens on the scoreboard at 10:34 with his first goal since Feb. 15.

Backlund’s second of the game 11 seconds into the period was an easy tap-in. Primeau sprawled trying to clear the puck, which left an open net for him to convert Blake Comeau’s backhand feed from behind the goal line.

The hosts were outshot 15-9 in the opening period, but emerged with a 1-0 lead. With 20 seconds remaining in Kaiden Guhle’s hooking penalty, Backlund tipped a Weegar shot by Primeau’s stick at 16:23.

LANNY LOVE

Former Calgary Flames captain Lanny McDonald received a standing ovation when the Saddledome’s video board panned to the Hockey Hall of Famer standing and waving in the crowd.

It was the 71-year-old’s first appearance at a Flames game since a cardiac event he suffered in Calgary’s airport upon return from the NHL all-star game in Toronto.

“Super-excited to see him back in the building,” Backlund said. “I texted a little bit with him when he was sick and not doing well. Good to see him recovering and back being out and about.

“I know how much he means to this city and this organization.”

UP NEXT

Flames: Host the Washington Capitals on Monday.

Canadiens: Visit the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2024.

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