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FINDING THE NET

With goals in three of his last five games, Michael Frolik is stepping up in a big way

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

They say it's better to be lucky than good.

When you're both, like Michael Frolik was Wednesday?

That's the best of all.

"I told him after the game: 'You're going to look back in 20 years from now and nobody will know if it was a pretty goal or not. It was a great goal because it was a big one for our team,'" said assistant coach Martin Gelinas, fondly recalling the winger's fortuitous game-winner against the Colorado Avalanche.

"He's playing so hard for us right now. It was great to see that go in."

Indeed, there was nothing pretty about it.

That much even with the longtime vet would admit, saying he's never before scored a goal off his thigh, much less in a game like that, the stakes that high.

But at the moment, at that time in the game, after all the work he's put in getting back into game shape thanks to a frustrating, long-term injury, there was no better feeling.

Mark Giordano's vagabond wrister was on track to miss by three or four feet. Frolik, stationed accordingly to the right of Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, got a piece of it, warping the puck beautifully under the bar with the meat of his quad, like some sort of billiard genius.

It stood as the game-winner, thanks to a late strike by the road team.

Star players are driving this league like never before, but that hasn't diminished the value of strong secondary contributors. And with 10 goals in only 28 games (a 29-goal pace), a healthy Frolik is proving his worth in a big way of late.

"When you miss a month, it's never easy," Frolik said following Thursday's practice at the Scotiabank Saddledome. "Especially me. I like to be on the ice a lot and even if I miss, like, two days, I feel off the next day.

"It took me a couple (games) when I came back to get that good feeling again, but I think now, I'm feeling pretty good. Really good, actually.

"On the goal, I thought Gio was going to put it behind the net, so I took a quick look at where the defenders were going, pushed off and put myself in a position at the side of the net, hoping to get to a loose puck while separating myself from the other player. It didn't quite turn out that way, but unless you're putting yourself in that spot, you're not going to get those lucky bounces.

"Defenders are always trying to box you out, and goalies can sometimes feel too comfortable in the net. If you can crash the net, do a little flyby, or anything at all to disrupt his concentration, it's one of those little things over the course of a game that can make a difference.

"It might be a little bit lucky to have that one go in off my pants, but if you're in around the net and willing to go to those areas - anticipating, reading a play - you're going to have more success."

Reunited with his longtime '3M Line' compatriots, Frolik has three tallies and five points in his last six games, including what amounted to yesterday's game-winning goal performance in a season-high 16:53 of ice time.

He, along with Tkachuk and Backlund, were the men responsible for handling Colorado's ever-dangerous top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog.

The Calgary trio got the better of the Avs' top unit, with all three finishing at or beyond a 50% Corsi, and Frolik leading all home skaters with three shots on goal.

"I've always believed in him," Backlund said of his winger. "He's a good player. I love playing with him because I know I can trust him in every situation and that he has my back if I make a mistake.

"Good players get good bounces. My dad always told me that every good player, and every good goalie, needs to have some luck. But you earn your luck, and Fro is the hardest-working guy we have. He deserves it. He's put in the work to get a bounce like that."

Like Backlund, Gelinas, too, has a one-of-a-kind perspective on what makes the versatile forward so effective in his craft.

He sits high above the freeze, up in the press box, and can see the plays develop long before they do at ice-level.

It's why, having seen him up close over the past few years, he appreciates what this kind of player can do for a team.

"The thing about Fro is that he's never going to cheat you, work-wise. You see him after practice working on his game. He always tends to be in the right area.

"He's able to get there. He has enough speed to get to loose pucks, to engage and win those one-on-one battles, and he's relentless when he gets there. That's what he does best. On the forecheck, he'll be on you and he'll be hard, and he's able to track back so well defensively because he's in such good shape.

"Guys like that - the hard-working ones - always get rewarded."

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