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Game 2 Player To Watch: Mikael Backlund

by Torie Peterson / Calgary Flames

Despite being just 26 years old, Mikael Backlund seems like a seasoned veteran in the Calgary Flames locker room, at least when it comes to playing in high-pressure situations.

As a teen, the centerman suited up for VIK Västerås HK organization in the J20 SuperElit league but his strong play earned him a chance to play for Västerås' senior team in the second-tier HockeyAllsvenskan league as a 16-year-old.

A year later, he was selected for Sweden's U18 team and would go on to represent his country six more times since that initial stint on the national team. During his team playing for Sweden, he has competed in three championship game and has won bronze three times as well.

During his tenure with the Kelowna Rockets, Backlund went on a tear in the playoffs and scored 13 goals and 23 points in 19 postseason outings. He and the Rockets ended up capturing the Ed Chynoweth Cup that year, another invaluable experience.

He also played in the AHL playoffs during his time with the Abbotsford Heat, amassing nine points in 13 outings.

Those experiences came in handy for the pivot on Wednesday night when the Flames played their first playoff game in six years and needed calming influences scattered throughout a lineup chock full of youthful, inexperienced players.

Playing alongside 18-year-old Sam Bennett - who was playing in just his second NHL game - and Joe Colborne, Backlund's poise under pressure allowed the line to have an immediate impact, generating a scoring chance on their first shift.

From that point on, the trio was arguably Calgary's most consistent line and were deployed by the coaching staff in key situations. To cap off the night, their hard work and relentlessness on the puck ended up leading to Kris Russell's game-winning goal in the last minute of the game.

Overall, Backlund logged 18:28 of ice time, fired three shots on net, and was a plus-one. He was one of Calgary's best possession players (62% even-strength Corsi-for, 56% overall Corsi-for) in Game 1 and was utilized by Bob Hartley in crucial face-offs in the defensive zone, with approximately 66% of his zone starts taking place in Calgary's end or the neutral zone.

If Backlund is able to pick off where he left off on Wednesday night, he and his linemates could get a goal or two past Eddie Lack and help Calgary push for the 2-0 series lead over Vancouver.

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