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Folks should be paying attention to Backlund, he's putting on quite a show this season

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

A bit uncomfortable outfitted in the black cowboy hat on Western Night, the post-victory chatter wasn't so much centred around Mikael Backlund's new look.

As his new handle.

"He's known as Mikael Selke around here right now,'' declared Matthew Tkachuk.

"Guys who love the Eastern Conference players should pay more attention to Backs."

Pumping a 2-on-1 shot behind 3:56 into an edge-of-the-seat overtime, a prime candidate for Flames' start-to-finish MVP this season provided his team with a 3-2 victory over the visiting Detroit Red Wings.

Backlund's snipe was No. 20 of a stellar, award-worthy season, one off his career high of last year.

Friday's was a typical Backlund scoreline: Over 20 minutes of duty, the big goal, four shots, nearly 50% inside the circle, defensively reliable.

The sort of game-in, game-out resume that practically screams 'Selke Trophy!', the bauble presented annually to the player who "demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game."

Although a complementary amount of offence - and Backland's delivered on that end, too - doesn't hurt whatsoever.

"I'd be honoured to be in the discussion for that award,'' said Backlund. "Players who win it are the ones I look up to; the players I'm trying to become. Zetterberg, Bergeron. Datsyuk, Toews. Kopitar.

"So of course it'd be nice to be mentioned in a group like that.

"But what's really important is that the buzz is back."

Video: Backlund on his game-winner

Yes. It is. That playoff-feel buzz. The kind that gripped this city two springtimes ago. It's gaining volume, threatening to reach Dolby Stereo levels.

Nothing seems to faze this group.

When Detroit's Tomas Tatar tied the count 2-2 from off to the side of Brian Elliott's net with 1.68 seconds left in the third period off a delectable no-look Henrik Zetterberg pass, the Flames could've folded like a piece of origami.

But bounce-back - a prime characteristic of that 2015 group that reached the post-season and burrowed into the second round - has become a hallmark of Glen Gulutzan's group.

"Our group has shown a lot of resiliency,'' said Gulutzan. "You have to build that belief. You are what you repeatedly do. So as long as we keep trying to build confidence and do the same thing night after night, your team can react to those situations."

Friday marked the 16th time the Flames have fallen behind in a game and manned up to win. Most in the league.

"A lot of confidence, a lot of swagger in this group right now,'' praised Backlund. "We're playing some good hockey. We get down a goal and we believe we can still get it back.

"We put ourselves behind every in game it seems like. Not the ideal situation. We can win games from being ahead.

"But early on this season, when we were down 1-0 or 2-0 at first, we wouldn't believe like we do right now.

"A lot more strength in this group, I think."

The 3-on-3 OT produced simply breathtaking stuff: Wings' goalie Petr Mzarek blunting a 2-on-1 Backlund chance; Brian Elliott - magnificent once again in the Calgary net - turning aside a Tatar pellet with his left shoulder; Johnny Gaudreau losing the handle after deking Mzarek from here to High River on a breakaway after chipping the puck past Anthony Mantha.

And then Backlund, steaming out on his second odd-man of the rush, taking a peek at captain Mark Giordano, storming up into the play, then burying it.

"Moose,'' said Backlund, "made a heckuva save on the one-timer. Then both me and Gio took off and Fro made a good play to me.

"I saw Gio but I thought the guy would come back and I decided to shoot it."

That's six wins on the trot for Calgary, which edged to within two points of Edmonton and Anaheim, currently occupying the second and third automatic playoff slots from the Pacific Division.

"You kind of just wipe the slate clean,'' said Elliott, on quite a roll himself (14-4-2 in his last 20 decisions), of the ability to regroup after such a late goal against. "Know you already have already have a point in the back pocket, then go out and get that next one.

"It (the resilience) builds every game. If you have a play you make it. If you don't, dump it in and grind. The guys have really done a great job with that."

No one represents the willingness more than Mikael Selke.

"The way I view him is as a go-to guy almost all year,'' praised Gulutzan. "Every tough match-up, every defensive zone face-off. We've got other guys doing that but primary Backs has taken the brunt of it."

Another example of why he richly deserves the new handle.

As for the new look …

"No, I can't wear this at home,'' confessed Backlund, tapping the black cowboy hat.

"But it's okay at Stampede time."


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