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Backlund enjoying productive stretch

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- Mikael Backlund is enjoying the bounces.

But in the midst of his hottest stretch of the season, the Calgary Flames forward feels his game is helping those bounces along, too.

“Bounces come and go,” Backlund said. “Some games they’re there. I’ve been trying to work on it since the end of November, early December, to turn around my game and always play on the right side of the puck, focus on doing the small things right and then the other things will take care of themselves.

"And just be really solid both ways, when I have the puck try to make plays … don’t be afraid to make things happen at the right times.

“I’ve been scoring more after Christmas than before, especially as of late. It’s a long season. You’re going to go through droughts and go through times where you’re really hot. That’s how it usually goes. But I feel like I’ve picked up my game in November and am getting better and better.”

It’s worked.

Eight of his 13 goals and 12 of his 34 points have come over the course of the past 16 games.

The 26-year-old is on pace to eclipse the 40-point plateau for the first time in his career and has already matched his career-best of 21 assists.

He’s five points shy of his career best of 39 set in 2013-14. Sixteen games remain.

“He’s been underrated … maybe our best player in the last month or two,” on-and-off linemate Joe Colborne said. “Playing with him … it’s a treat. Him and I have had chemistry every time we’ve played together … last year in the playoffs and this past little while. He’s so smart with the puck and so responsible. It’s just, you know if you have the puck he’s somewhere close by to give you an outlet. That helps.

“When he’s thrust into a defensive role a lot of times and he takes a lot of d-zone face-offs. It’s not like he’s getting spoon-fed some of these points. It’s hard work to get the puck in our d-zone, get it down there, and then do something with it. He’s been playing amazing.”

No teammate has more goals than Backlund since the NHL All-Star break ended on Feb. 3.

His efforts were highlighted in a 4-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. He played 16:23, had an assist, and scored the game-winner to help the Flames halt a seven-game losing skid.

All while facing a steady dose of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

“I really believe that [Backlund] is playing some great hockey right now … really good hockey,” Calgary coach Bob Hartley said. “He’s been fairly consistent all year, but right now, I told him the game in Pittsburgh, I really believe that was probably the best game I’ve seen him play as a Calgary Flame. He was dominant.

“He’s up and down both on the offensive and defensive side. He’s playing the complete game for us.”

The stretch isn’t unlike some of what Backlund has shown before.

He had an eight-game point streak from Feb. 27-March 14, 2015 that saw the Swedish-born centre score three goals and eight points. He also had five goals and eight points in seven games from Jan. 7-Jan 21, 2015. He rattled off four goals and nine points in seven games from March 10-22, 2014, too.

The key, Backlund suggested, from turning spurts into prolonged success is positivity.

“I had some good games here and there but I wasn’t consistent enough,” he said. “I just decided to leave it all out there. I also had a good talk with my trainer back in Sweden that just told me, I think in early December, told me to relax and have fun and always stay positive, have a good feeling in yourself and just go out there and play and just try to be on the right side of the puck.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to do.”

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