Mikael Backlund

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Mike Smith unlikely hero as Flames shutout Avalanche in Game 1

Mike Smith certainly didn’t start this season on a positive note and while he did improve as the campaign went on, goaltending was still a big question mark for Calgary going into the series. Few would have predicted that Smith would end up being the standout in this battle between two high-powered offenses, but that was the case in the Flames’ 4-0 victory over the Avalanche.

Philipp Grubauer, who also had a poor start to the season before bouncing back, did hold up for most of the game. He couldn’t save the Avalanche Thursday night, but he kept them in this one despite the lopsided final score. It wasn’t until late in the second period that the Flames first solved him.

Continuing with the theme of Game 1 defying expectations, rather than one of the Flames’ many offensive stars netting the goal, it was Andrew Mangiapane, who has just eight career goals and was making his postseason debut. For a moment, he looked like an elite forward, weaving through the Avalanche and outmaneuvering Grubauer before finishing him with a backhand.

Late in the second period, Matthew Tkachuk capitalized on a power-play opportunity to score his first career playoff goal. That 2-0 edge would hold for most of what remained until the floodgates opened late. Mikael Backlund added another power-play goal at 17:01 of the third period then just 14 seconds later, Tkachuk scored again to make it 4-0.

Colorado was the clear underdog going into this series, so from that perspective this outcome wasn’t surprising even if how we got to it did deviate from the script. At the same time, the Avalanche couldn’t be discounted and still shouldn’t be. Any team headlined by Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen has the potential to be very dangerous and the Flames know full well that their work is far from done.

Avalanche-Flames Game 2 from Scotiabank Saddledome will be Saturday night at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Flames’ Backlund makes Capitals look silly on incredible goal

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The Washington Capitals aren’t having the best time on the ice at the moment.

Losers of six straight heading into Friday’s action, Mikael Backlund decided to rub it in a little.

And man, did he make the Capitals looks silly on this one.

Tom Wilson, Brooks Orpik and Chandler Stephenson could do little but run into each other as Backlund lifted the puck over their heads and scooted around them to retrieve his own nifty pass.

Jonas Siegenthaler was then left to try and end the madness, but his attempt at slashing his way out of the problem Backlund created was just another failure in the latter’s path of destruction.

Backlund, of course, still needed to beat Braden Holtby. No problem, just channel Peter Forsberg, right?

Right.

Backlund finished off his magnificent play, well, magnificently for one of the prettiest sequences in the NHL this season.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Flames’ Lomberg ejected for jumping Wild’s Dumba after questionable hit

Sportsnet
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(UPDATE: Lomberg has been automatically suspended for one game and Flames head coach Bill Peters has been fined $10,000, per the NHL Department of Player Safety, as per rule 46.22, Instigating in the Final Five Minutes of Regulation. He’ll also have a hearing today for “a legal line change for the purpose of starting an altercation.” That could end up being a fine or multi-game ban. In other discipline news from the gameMark Giordano will have a hearing today for kneeing Mikko Koivu.)

A wild finished between the Calgary Flames and Minnesota Wild saw a massive (questionable?) hit, an ejection and a seven-minute power play on Thursday.

A heated contest came to a head with under a minute left in the third period with the Flames holding a 2-0 lead.

Wild defenseman Matt Dumba stepped up in the Flames zone and delivered a hit to Mikael Backlund. There are a couple of angles to watch. One of them shows Dumba jumping into the hit and the other shows his shoulder hitting Backlund square in the face.

Here’s the tape:

Backlund was forced out of the game and could be out for a while, according to Sportsnet’s John Shannon.

Appears he was in concussion protocol, as well.

The Flames didn’t take too kindly to the hit and Ryan Lomberg came off the bench on a line change and made a b-line right to Dumba, jumping him and getting one punch in before the refs piled on top of the two.

Lomberg got two minutes for instigating, five minutes for fighting and a game misconduct for his efforts. The power play for Minnesota didn’t amount to anything as Mike Smith stood tall for the 31-save shutout.

Dumba was not penalized on the play.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Hellebuyck’s shutout; Staal, Granlund combine for eight points; Penguins cruise

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Players of the Night:

Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets: Hellebuyck’s sixth shutout of the season — a 34-save effort in a 4-0 win against the St. Louis Blues — set a new franchise record. He’s now just two wins away from tying the team’s franchise record for wins by a goalie at 32.

Eric Staal and Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild: Staal and Granlund basically had their way with the New York Rangers in a 4-1 win. They each scored twice and also assisted twice on each other’s goals. Feasting on the Rangers is pretty easy these days, but it was an impressive night for the duo nonetheless.

William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights: Goals No. 32 and No. 33 tonight, including quite the rip on his second one. Added an assist as well in a 6-3 win for the Golden Knights over the Vancouver Canucks. What a player he’s turned into.

Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins: Kessel has two goals and an assist and Malkin and Guentzel each had a goal and two assists. The Penguins are already scary on offense, and they just added Derick Brassard on Friday. Three-peat, anyone?

Highlights of the Night:

Saucy little number:

Patrik Laine makes it look so easy:

Slick feed game:

Ugly suit night for the Winnipeg Jets:

https://twitter.com/NHLGIFs/status/967262571605778433

Trade of the Day:

The three-team deal that happened, then it didn’t and then happened again

Penguins land Derick Brassard on second try in wild three-team deal.

Own goal of the night:

Troy Stecher got a little unlucky on this one:

Factoids of the Night:

Scores:

Wild 4, Rangers 1

Penguins 6, Hurricanes 1

Jets 4, Blues 0

Blackhawks 3, Sharks 1

Golden Knights 6, Canucks 3


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Flames extend analytics darling Mikael Backlund

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

The line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Micheal Ferland (Ferland for now?) probably ranks as the Calgary Flames’ most important forward trio. If you spend a little time on Hockey Twitter, you’ll probably come across someone gushing about “The 3M Line,” maybe more than the bigger guns.

(Aside: I really tried to get a Campbell’s Soup-inspired nickname for that line, but it never took off. Probably for the greater good?)

With the trade deadline looming, the Flames took a big step toward keeping that line intact, signing underrated center Mikael Backlund to a six-year, $32.1 million contract extension. He’ll go from carrying a $3.575M cap hit in the final year of his current deal to $5.35M from 2018-19 through 2023-24.

This keeps “The 3M Line” together through 2018-19, assuming the team doesn’t want to split them up at some point.

The most infamous member of the trio is the least tenured of the three: Matthew Tkachuk will see his rookie contract expire after 2018-19. Michael Frolik, meanwhile, receives $4.3M per season through 2019-20. Tkachuk isn’t likely to go anywhere, mind you, but his inevitable raise could make it tough to keep all three of those puck-hogging forwards on the same roster that also boasts Gaudreau, Monahan, and pricey blueliners like Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton.

Backlund, 28 (soon to be 29 as of March 17), is a solid piece even if you look at his scoring stats alone. The 24th pick of the 2007 NHL Draft is trying to make this his third consecutive 20-goal season, although he’s been limited to 10 in 58 games. (He’s made up the difference with 24 assists.)

If you look at his possession metrics, you’ll see that Backlund consistently tilts the ice in his team’s favor, even with heavy-to-drastic defensive usage.

Ultimately, he brings a nice mix of the subtle stuff that might slip under the radar:

With enough scoring punch that he jumps off the charts even when you’re not, well, looking at charts.

Naturally, this is an expensive contract, so there’s some risk involved. Even so, most seem happy with the deal from the Flames’ end:

If you take a look at their salary structure, there’s really a lot to like in Calgary. Now the Flames need to start putting it all together on the ice.

Once that really starts to build momentum, Backlund could be the sort of player who really makes the difference in a tough playoff series. That’s what the Flames are paying him for, really.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.