The NHL is probably a stretch for me but I still feel I want to play and still feel I’ve got the hunger to do the work on the ice and off the ice. - Niklas Backstrom
CALGARY, AB -- If he is done, it’s a fitting way to go out.
What better way, really, than stopping 35 of 36 shots in a first star performance to beat the only other National Hockey League team you’ve ever tended twine for?
But the future is very much still in doubt for goaltender Niklas Backstrom.
At least, the part he’s willing to let on about.
“I think I’m pretty clear on what I want to do but there is for sure certain things you want to be really certain about so I’m pretty certain about what I want to do,” riddled Backstrom after meeting with Calgary Flames management and clearing out his locker Apr. 11.
“I have to be realistic with the NHL. I haven’t played a lot but I know I can still play here. I think I proved it in the couple of games that I played that I can play at a good level but I’ve been around for a long time and I haven’t played a lot (lately). The NHL is probably a stretch for me but I still feel I want to play and still feel I’ve got the hunger to do the work on the ice and off the ice.
“Those are probably the answers I was looking for here in the past couple of weeks. It was always easy to say that you want to play but it takes a lot more than that. It’s not just to show up and play at the rink, you have to work hard and prepare. I still feel that I still want to do that and I am ready to do that.”
There’s no question he is.
Backstrom has already done just that.
The 38-year-old put in the work during a 14-month dry stretch of starts, eating press box popcorn or riding pine from Jan. 13, 2015 through to Mar. 20, 2016.
He served as third stringer for the Minnesota Wild -- the team’s career leader with 194 victories and 28 shutouts -- behind goalies Devan Dubnyk and Darcy Kuemper.
No sniff, no second of action in over a calendar year when he waived his no-trade clause to join the Flames in a deadline swap.
He waited another three weeks, working diligently away with Calgary goaltending coach Jordan Sigalet, before netting his first game action in a 21-save win at the Montreal Canadiens.
Three more appearances followed, including his finale at Xcel Energy Center, where his career began in a 17-save win on Oct. 7, 2006, to close out a 223-minute stint with a 3.35 GAA and .881 save percentage.
“It had been a long time not playing and just to go out there and compete and to get the feeling again for sure it’s worth it,” Backstrom said. “If it would happen again I would do it all over. Work every day and just wait for a chance but for sure it was worth it.
“You never give up, you always fight until the end. I had a great hop along the way. People around me, coaches here, in Minnesota, my teammates where and in Minnesota. They made me feel like I am a big part of the team and it’s a team sport; if you quit on yourself you quit on your teammates and you never want to do that.”