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Fast start helps Flames snap out of funk

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Not often a fella gets to rub it in on royalty.

To go Ka-Ching! and cash on a King.

"It's always cool to score on him,'' confessed fellow Swede Mikael Backlund.

Comedian's one-heartbeat pause.

"I mean, I've only done it once before …

"But I grew up watching him a lot."


Video: "It felt good scoring on Lundqvist, for sure"


Turning the tables on the much-dissected beleaguered starts of late, the Flames exploded out of the chute on NY Rangers' star-spangled goaltender 'King' Henrik Lundqvist, a slam-dunk first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, opening up a 2-0 lead on a couple of electrifying breakaway goals.

Confidence-wise, those moments served to pave the way to a 4-3 victory.

Both goals were simply delectable.

First Johnny Gaudreau went all impresario, leaving Jacob Trouba inhaling his ice chips before saucily slipping the puck between Lundqvist's pads at 4:15.

Then, with pals Sam Bennett and Derek Ryan both incarcerated for hooking, Backlund took a turn to pounce, anticipating an ill-advised D-to-D pass by Rangers' Tony Deangelo, setting off from inside his own blueline to go kroner-to-kroner with his legendary countryman.

Understand, five-on-three shorthanded breakaways, particularly of that extended length, don't happen just pop up on any old night. 

They're as rare as white peacocks or an authentic William Shakespeare autograph.

"I saw what Johnny did just before and I thought I try the same, then I decided to changed it up a little bit, lift it up,'' said Backlund. "That's what kinda went through my head. I was going backhand and then decided I'd go high."


Video: "We did a really good job in the defensive zone"


Backlund's gear-shift giddyup impressed even the now-you-see-him-now-you-don't Gaudreau.

"Huge play," he lauded. "Got his stick out in the passing lane and then took off with that speed. I didn't now he's as fast as he was there.
"He took off like he got shot out of a cannon."

The Rangers wouldn't roll over and play dead, fighting back to tie 2-2 and then again after trailing 3-2 by the end of a far-from-textbook five-goal first period, but finally surging out to a lead, finding themselves playing with house money for a change, and not catch up, did wonders for morale. 

"They gave us a lot of energy,'' said Backlund of the two breakaway snipes. "The last two home games it's been tough starts. The penalty-kill wasn't the best. So to get that one from Johnny and then to score on the shortie was good for the group."

Given the way it happened and the guy doing the mesmerizing, Gaudreau's 11th of the season certainly took a lot of nervousness out of the building.

"Johnny,'' said buddy Sean Monahan with a grin, "was feeling it tonight."

Lundqvist obviously would've agreed with that assessment.

"I was coming down fast, had a lot of speed, was gonna shoot and at the last second tried to go my backhand and put it through the 5-hole,'' Gaudreau explained.

"We haven't had great starts the past few games in the 'Dome so it was nice to get off to an early lead."


Video: "You could feel a better focus going into the game"


Ryan notched the third Calgary goal and Monahan, sweeping a lovely little chip pass from defenceman Noah Hanifin behind King Henrik in one motion after Gaudreau had shifted the focus of play on a cross-ice seam pass, counted what held up as the game winner, 8:22 into the second period.

But the swaggering start was what had everybody talking.

"We've been talking about that for a couple games now,'' echoed interim coach Geoff Ward. "We found a way to get ahead of the game tonight which was huge for us, and when they came back and tied it, we found a way to stay in front of it.

"I felt like we came out with jump…you could feel a little bit of a better focus tonight going into the game. They have a lot of pride in what they do and how they prepare.

"We've seen a lot of nights when we get those chances and they don't go in, but tonight both guys made nice moves to get at the back of the net. It was a huge lift for us; it got our bench going a lot, especially when you're able to get a five-on-three shorthanded goal."


Video: "I knew the run support would come"


Cam Talbot fought through two powerplay goals on the first three shots during the 5-on-3 that Backlund had scored on - a screened Trouba shot and nifty bit of hand-eye from Filip Chytil to swat a foot-high airborne puck behind him only - to produce 15 stops and post his first win since Dec. 10. 

"The 5-on-3 the guy makes a good shot and then on the next one he made a good play batting it out of the air,'' reasoned Talbot. "So a rough start for myself after we got a couple but I thought from there I made some big saves when I needed to."

The only thing that mattered preparing to head off on a quick two-game pre-All Star junket was the result.

No matter who or where or how.

"I thought we did a really good job in the defensive zone,'' said Gaudreau. "Our coaches said we held them to nine or 10 chances. I mean, that's pretty good.

"And then when we got our chances, we had a lot of looks. A big win, for sure."

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