CALGARY -- Niklas Backstrom had to wait 12 days between starts and watch Josh Harding win four straight games. He made the most of his chance to get back into the net, stopping 41 shots as the Minnesota Wild opened their five-game road trip with a 3-0 victory against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome on Tuesday night.
Backstrom got an early lead on Darroll Powe's goal 5:35 into the game, while Dany Heatley added a power-play goal midway through the second period and Guillaume Latendresse hit the empty net with 38 seconds remaining in the third.
The Wild gave their goaltender plenty of help by blocking 27 shots Minnesota killed off all seven Calgary power-plays, running their streak to 21 consecutive kills in five games.
"That's the biggest reason why we won today," Backstrom said. "On the other hand we cant be in the box that much. It's way too many penalties. We have to cut down on those if we want to be successful in the future."
Harding won the NHL's First Star last week by winning all three of his decisions while allowing just two goals. He had played in Minnesota's last four games, winning them all while Backstrom, the Wild's No. 1 goaltender, sat and watched.
"I don't know that we could really make a bad decision as a coaching staff right as far as who we're going to put in net," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "When you get goaltending like that you have a chance to win every hockey game."
Backstrom was the only reason the Flames didn't get on the scoreboard first. The Flames fired eight shots in the first four minutes, but he stopped them all. Curtis Glencross forced Backstrom to bat a puck down with the blade of his stick while on his stomach to keep the game scoreless just 3:21 into the opening period. Jarome Iginla was robbed 1:21 later after the puck ricocheted off the end glass, over the cage and onto the stick of the Flames' captain in the slot. Backstrom turned around in time and got the paddle down to make the save.
"They came really hard," Backstrom said. "If you're not ready in the beginning the game could be over in the first 10 minutes. That's when you have to be ready to face the challenge."
Powe then opened the scoring when Nick Johnson's shot from near the left boards on a 2-on-2 deflected off the skate of a driving Powe and between the legs of Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff. The Wild left the ice after 20 minutes with the lead despite being outshot 15-5.
Backstrom made 12 more saves in the second period; the best came during a Flames' power play, when he denied Rene Bourque's one-timer from just inside the faceoff dot with his left pad at 8:57.
Minnesota made it 2-0 at 12:47. With Matt Stajan in the box, Heatley finished a nice passing play with Mikko Koivu, redirecting a pass over the blocker of Kiprusoff.
"I didn't see much," Heatley said. "It was a bang-bang. Mikk made a great play and sold it pretty well. I just got a good stick on it."
The Calgary native said it was nice to score one in front of friends and family.
"A lot of family is still here and it's nice to score while you're here," he said.
Backstrom had to stop five more power-play shots when Johnson received a match penalty at 13:41 for head-butting Iginla during a fight.
"I disagree with the call," Yeo said. "What disappoints me about the call is Jarome Iginla starts the thing then he calls it. He tells everybody on the ice that he head-butted him. All I saw was a guy trying to protect himself and a guy engaged in a fight. I didn't see a head-butt. Obviously they're going to look at that and they'll make that decision."
Iginla disagreed with Yeo's assessment.
"I just felt that I got head-butted," he said. "I haven't had that very often in a fight. I thought the refs made the right call and that was the end of it. You get fired up in a fight and I felt like he got me there a couple times with the head. The refs saw it and made the call."
Backstrom stopped 14 more shots in the third, robbing Olli Jokinen from in close while on his stomach with 12:42 remaining.
Despite the win, Yeo wasn't satisfied with his team's performance.
"This is a night where the assistant coaches are really happy because the power-play was great, the penalty-kill was great, your goalie gets a shutout," Yeo said. "They're all in there celebrating. I actually am not all that thrilled with the game, to be honest."
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