CALGARY, AB -- After the Calgary Flames lost three forwards - Daymond Langkow, Curtis Glencross
and Christopher Higgins - to injuries in the month of March, head coach Brent Sutter was looking for other members of his club to step up and fill the holes left by the ailing trio.
Rookie Mikael Backlund
and his linemates, Rene Bourque and Ales Kotalik, have done just that.
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CENTRE - CGY
GP: 19 | GOALS: 1 | ASST: 8 | PTS: 9
SOG: 41 | +/-: +5 |
The newly formed second line has been an offensive juggernaut since being put together last week. Over the their past three outings, the trio have combined for 11 points and a +15 rating and look more dangerous every game.
"They've been rock solid," Sutter said. "We need everybody. We can't afford to not have everyone be good and play rock solid games for us."
While all three men are playing extremely well, Backlund has been particularly impressive. The 21-year-old has just 20 NHL games under his belt in his career but thanks to his rapid progression has been thrust into some situations so daunting they could make veterans a bit nervous.
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LEFT WING - CGY
GP: 69 | GOALS: 25 | ASST: 31 | PTS: 56
SOG: 202 | +/-: 9
One example comes from Wednesday's crucial game against the Coyotes. In the dying minute of the second period with the Flames up by a goal, blueliner Derek Morris sent a howitzer towards the net in hopes of netting the equalizer. Backlund fearlessly threw his body on the ice, absorbing the shot before limping off the ice in search of an ice bag.
"It hurt a little bit but if feels good it didn’t go in," Backlund said. "I lost my guy, so it was good to make the block. If they score, it’s tough going into the intermission with a tie game."
His teammates were quick to send compliments his way after the win.
"It was huge," defenseman Cory Sarich
said. "We had some really big shot blocks out there and some unbelievable saves from our goalie but it's nice to see a young guy like that buying in and getting down and dirty to get the job done."
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RIGHT WING - CGY
GP: 67 | GOALS: 11 | ASST: 15 | PTS: 26
SOG: 160 | +/-: -16
That kind of sacrifice not only earned him pats on the back from the team but ice time. Backlund was sent out in the final minute of the game, showing the trust that Sutter and the rest of the coaching staff has in the young forward.
Backlund cites his linemates as the reason for his success, saying the three of them were able to gel almost immediately.
"We just have good chemistry," he smiled. "They're two great players that I play with so it's easy for me. I'm just trying to make plays and play easy when I should. We have good speed on the line and two strong forwards so we've got good chemistry.
"Everybody's a good shooter and a good passer so we get all of it on the line."
Bourque was quick to dole out praise for his linemate.
"Backs has been playing good. He's good on the faceoffs so we've got a lot of puck possession, he can make plays, he has a lot of speed up through the neutral zone.
"He's been great."
For Kotalik, being put on a line with Bourque and Backlund has been an offensive resurrection. After several successful seasons in Buffalo, Kotalik has bounced around the league and hasn't been able to find the same offensive magic he had with the Sabres.
He looked a bit out of place in his first few games as a Flame but has settled in with the team, scoring two goals in his last three contests.
"Kotes struggled when he first got here but he's finding his game," said Bourque."He's so strong the puck down low and down the wall and we're getting a lot of opportunities in the offensive zone.
"I'm definitely happy for Kotes to get the monkey off his back."
The soft-spoken Czech downplayed his recent achievements, saying that he's just happy the team is playing great hockey down the home stretch.
"It feels good to chip into team success," he said with a smile. "This is a really important time, a fun time, and I'm just happy to help the team win hockey games."
Bourque has had an outstanding season, notching his career-high 56th point of the season against the Avalanche on Friday, but has really picked his game up over the past month. He has three of the 10 game-winning goals since coming back from the Olympic break and is currently riding a three-game point streak since being put together with Kotalik and Backlund.
"It's nice," he said of his recent offensive stats. "We need goals from anybody though, it doesn't matter who is scoring as long as we're winning. But it's definitely nice to contribute."