From a Calgary Flames perspective, the story of tonight’s game writes itself. For the second time in three games, the Flames will give Niklas Backstrom the start in net. This time, however, things are a little different for Backstrom as he gets the opportunity to play his former team for the first time in a different uniform. Knowing that former team had relegated him to a third string position for the better part of a year, you can bet Backstrom’s motivation is off the charts. Backstrom will look for his second win tonight as Calgary finishes off a three game road trip against the Minnesota Wild (6 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960).
Calgary Flames 31-36-6, 5th Pacific Division
Backstrom returned to NHL action for the first time in more than 14 months on Sunday night when he made 21 saves in a 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens. While Backstrom didn’t have to face a barrage of shots or anything like that, he made the saves he needed to and earned his first win since December of 2014. Playing his former team, though, is going to be a little different. Prior to being dealt to Calgary at the deadline, Backstrom had never played for another NHL organization other than the Wild and in just his second game back, he’s going to be facing them. With Devan Dubnyk and Darcy Kuemper ahead of him on the depth chart, Backstrom wasn’t able to play games or even practice regularly with the team. While it’s all part of the business, don’t think he’s not going to be fired up tonight. We’re not sure how many more starts Backstrom is going to get down the stretch, so making the most out of tonight is going to be huge.
The Flames are coming off a 5-2 loss at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night. It was one of their least impressive outings in recent memory as Calgary has actually been playing some good hockey over the last couple of weeks. The Flames are 5-2-2 over their last nine games and have done some of their best work against teams either in the playoffs or fighting for playoff spots. Their opponent tonight falls into that category so we’ll see if Calgary is able to do what they’ve done against teams like San Jose, Nashville, St. Louis, and Colorado in recent memory.
For a third straight game, the Flames will be without defenceman Deryk Engelland. He’s set to rejoin the team on Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks after spending some time with his family with the birth of a second child. In Engelland’s absence, Wotherspoon will play his third straight game up on emergency recall while Calgary’s forward lines have been shifted slightly. Most notably, Jooris and Ferland have swapped lines on the right side with Ferland moving back up to the top line with Gaudreau and Monahan.
Minnesota Wild 35-28-11, 5th Central Division
The Wild chose a pretty good time to put together a three game winning streak which continued on Tuesday night. Thanks to a stellar Devan Dubnyk performance between the pipes, Minnesota took a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings to move back into the Western Conference’s final wildcard spot. Entering action tonight, the Wild have a one point edge on the Colorado Avalanche for that final playoff spot with both teams in action tonight. With one fewer game played, Colorado welcomes similarly desperate Philadelphia at 7 pm. The Wild and Avalanche have one more game with one another and that happens to be on Saturday at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
It looks like Pominville will return to the Wild lineup after missing seven games with a groin injury. That’s just one of the tweaks Head Coach John Torchetti will make tonight. Minnesota will also welcome Vanek back to the lineup tonight after missing three games as a healthy scratch. With Vanek returning, it’ll be Jason Zucker getting the healthy scratch after he was lit up on the bench in Tuesday’s win over the Kings. Chris Porter and Nate Prosser will also sit out tonight.
After a sparkling 38 save performance two nights ago against the Kings, it was an easy choice to give the ball back to Dubnyk between the pipes tonight. While Dubnyk hasn’t been quite as stellar as he was one season ago, he’s still given Minnesota number one quality goaltending for the vast majority of the season. Performances like Tuesday are always a nice bonus, though. On the season, Dubnyk sits 29-22-6 with a 2.36 GAA and a 0.918 save percentage.