CALGARY — In the midst of all the excitement, Mikael Backlund caught himself when talking about scoring against one of his childhood heroes.
“It’s always cool to score…” he said before pausing to correct himself. “I shouldn’t say, ‘always’ because I’ve only done it once before, but ya, it felt good scoring on (Henrik) Lundqvist for sure.
“I grew up watching him a lot and it was a good feeling.”
Good timing too.
Three minutes after Johnny Gaudreau opened the scoring with a breakaway that he ended with a nifty backhand through the legs of the Rangers legend, Backlund found himself in a similar showdown.
This time it came under rare circumstances, as the Swedish centre skated in alone while his club tried killing a 5-on-3 power play. Intercepting a Tony DeAngelo pass just inside his own blue line, Backlund’s breakaway was so long he had time to change his mind on his finishing move.
“I saw what Johnny did just before and I thought, ‘maybe I’ll try the same,’ and then thought, ‘maybe I’ll change it up a bit and lift it up, try to go high,’” he said with a smile, describing a goal that put the Flames up 2-0 a mere seven minutes in when he finished with a backhand just under the Hall of Famer’s glove.
“(Those two goals) gave us a lot of energy. The last two home games there have been some tough starts. I feel like I wasn’t at my best those two games, so to get that early one with Johnny and then the shorty was obviously good for the group. They still came back and tied it, but it’s good we came back and got a third one.”
Indeed, the Rangers tied the game within minutes, on power play goals that saw Cam Talbot scored on in two of the first three shots he faced.
Fact is, he was lights out from there, stopping 23 of the next 24 shots against a young Rangers squad that loves to run and gun so much that team president John Davidson quipped between period his team was, “like a box of chocolates.”
You never know what you’re going to get, which was the theme surrounding the Flames their last two outings in which they opened with 3-0 deficits.
On Thursday they needed to snap a five-game winless string at the Dome; they needed to prove they could go long stretches holding onto leads and they needed to finally get Talbot some run support.
And they had to do all that despite being stunned mere hours before the game by the trading of popular teammate Michael Frolik to Buffalo for a fourth-round pick and the freedom to now spend his $4.3 million in cap space on a significant deadline addition.
“The return is cap space,” said GM Brad Treliving shortly after consummating a deal he said picked up steam over the Christmas break. “We didn’t trade to keep it in our pocket. Our intention is to go out and make the team better. This is a big part of it.”
Frolik alone would never have helped the Flames acquire the type of impact player Calgary is hoping to land before the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
But his cap space could.
“It’s always hard to see guys leave,” said Backlund, who played alongside Frolik on the team’s 3M Line for years.
“As soon as I found out I texted him. We played a lot of years together and spent a lot of time on the ice together and a lot of memories. Great guy off the ice. Excited for him to get a new opportunity.”
Talbot’s opportunity was as good as he’s had all season Thursday, making a rare home start on a night his team isn’t coming off a game. Facing his mentor and a man he teamed up with as a rookie to get the Rangers to the Stanley Cup final his first year and then to a Presidents’ Trophy the next, neither looked sharp early, allowing four goals on the first eight shots.
Things settled from there.
“Not the best start for myself after we got up a couple, but I thought I battled well from there and made some big saves when I needed to,” said Talbot, whose record improves to just 4-7 despite having a better save percentage and GAA than David Rittich entering the night.
“I knew if I kept playing my game the run support would come. The win is the most important thing.”
Talbot’s 24 saves helped the Flames preserve a 4-3 win the final 32 minutes without a goal.
Derek Ryan’s shot off Brady Skjei’s skate put the Flames up 3-2 late in the first, only to see rookie Kaapo Kakko score his seventh early in the third.
Sean Monahan’s 14th eight minutes into the second stood as the winner, coming after he converted a nifty passing play involving Gaudreau and Noah Hanifin.
The game marked the first appearance in Calgary by former Flames draft pick Adam Fox, a Harvard blue chipper who essentially forced the club to trade his rights to Carolina as he refused to sign.
He was booed every time he touched the puck by a fan base well aware of his desires to sign nowhere but New York coming out of school.
The Flames head out on their semi-annual annual father/son trio Saturday for games in Minnesota and Chicago Tuesday.