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Flames beat Thrashers 4-2 for sixth in a row

by John Manasso /
ATLANTA -- Calgary Flames rookie Mikael Backlund made a promise on a phone call back to Sweden prior to Thursday's game. A few hours later, he delivered.

Backlund told his mother Ann-mari, who is having surgery on Sunday, that he would score a goal for her. With 5:57 left in regulation, his self-admitted "greasy" goal proved to be the game-winner in a 4-2 victory against the Thrashers before 12,984 at Philips Arena.

"I was just happy," the 21-year-old said after the Flames won their sixth in a row. "... She had a blood clot two and a half years ago, so I told her I'd score for her and make her happy."

The Flames won for the first time in seven tries in the city they once called home - they had been 0-5-1 in their six visits to Atlanta since the Thrashers entered the NHL in 1999, 19 years after the Flames left for Calgary.

The Flames now have 58 points, tying them with Chicago and Los Angeles -- all three teams are one behind eighth-place Phoenx, and only three behind fourth-place Nashville in the wild Western Conference playoff race.

Backlund, selected No. 24 in the 2007 Entry Draft, has 6 goals and 6 assists in 45 games and is plus-4. He is taking on an increasingly large role with the revived Flames.

"Back is an intelligent player," coach Brent Sutter said. "As we go along here, he's learning the NHL game and has some confidence there. I have no problem at all playing him in the last few minutes down the stretch just because of his play down low. He's a real good player supporting his defense in the defensive zone."

Backlund scored unassisted off a scrum in front of the Thrashers' net. The Thrashers failed on several attempts to clear the puck. Jarome Iginla, whose other linemates left the ice for a change, did some excellent work along the boards during an extended shift.

"We did a great job protecting the puck," Sutter said. "We were strong with the puck. We made some short little plays that allowed the pass out to the slot. ... It hits a skate and goes in."

Backlund didn't see what it hit. He joked that "the whole team" was between him and the net. Curtis Glencross added an empty-netter with six seconds left in regulation.

To earn the victory, the Flames had to come from behind. The Thrashers took a 2-1 lead midway through the second period after trailing at first intermission. Bryan Little scored 58 seconds into the period after converting Niclas Bergfors' feed from behind the net.

Then with 8:46 left in the period, Nik Antropov, promoted on Thursday to center the second line after playing mostly wing on a lower line for much of the season, made a perfect pass on a 2-on-1 as Anthony Stewart scored his 13th goal.

Calgary tied the game just 54 seconds later. Alex Tanguay absorbed a big hit from Atlanta's Dustin Byfuglien along the left boards - after the game he pointed to a cut on the bridge of his nose where Byfuglien's stick hit him -- but managed to throw the puck towards the net. Brendan Morrison, undefended on the back door, tapped in the puck.

Atlanta, which has been struggling for the last six weeks, started the game on the wrong foot. On the first shift of the game, Evander Kane received a double-minor for high-sticking Corey Sarich as he raced for the puck down the left wing in Calgary's end.

The Thrashers' 29th-ranked penalty killing unit played admirably but one second after the penalties expired, Calgary's Mark Giordano converted a quick slapper from above the left circle as the Flames finally broke down the Thrashers' coverage.

Miraculously, Atlanta still clings to the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot, as ninth-place Carolina, which holds two games in hand on the Thrashers, lost 3-0 to Toronto. The two teams meet Saturday night in Raleigh.

Atlanta fell to 2-6-3 in its last 11 games and has won just once at home since the calendar turned to 2011 (1-4-2). They have scored a total of five goals in their last four games since All-Star defenseman Tobias Enstrom left the lineup with a broken finger. Fellow All-Star defenseman Byfuglien, the League's leader in goals by a defenseman with 16, went without a point for his 12th consecutive game. They lead the Thrashers in points with 41 apiece.

As moral victories go, the loss marked an improvement on Tuesday's 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders.

"Earlier in the year we were winning those games and finding a way to get that key turnover," Atlanta coach Craig Ramsay said. "But the effort was there. It was a much better effort."

In a bit of a scary play with 2:46 left in the second period, Atlanta defenseman Freddy Meyer collapsed face down at center ice and required medical attention. The team reported that Meyer, who did not return, had an "upper-body" injury. Meyer told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution after the game that he blacked out after successive hits from Tim Jackman and Glencross. Ramsay said Meyer's status would be updated on Friday.

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