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Flames hold off struggling Sharks for 4-3 win

by John Kreiser

The Calgary Flames got a little payback against the San Jose Sharks -- and a much-needed two points in the playoff race.

Two months after being blasted 9-1 in their last meeting in San Jose, the Flames got a pair of key second-period assists by rookie center Mikael Backlund and held off the Sharks 4-3 on Friday night.

The victory gave Calgary 81 points, the same as eighth-place Detroit. The Wings got a point in a 3-2 shootout loss at Edmonton and are ahead of the Flames because they've played one fewer game.

"If you don't have emotion and a sense of urgency right now in the situation we're in then I guess we're in trouble, but our emotion level was there tonight," Calgary coach Brent Sutter said.

San Jose lost its fifth in a row and fell to 0-4-0 on its six-game road trip. The Pacific Division-leading Sharks are just three points ahead of second-place Phoenix.

Backlund set up goals two minutes apart by Nigel Dawes and Eric Nystrom to help the Flames open a 4-1 lead -- an advantage that was just big enough to survive a late Sharks rally that was accidentally started by Backlund.

While attempting to shovel the puck against goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff for a stoppage, Backlund accidentally slid the puck under his goalie and across the crease, where it was whacked into the empty net by Manny Malhotra with 7:59 remaining.

"We just had a shift and then we had an icing so I had to stay out there and I was just so tired. We finally got the puck and I was just trying to get it to Kipper to freeze it," Backlund said. "It was a little embarrassing but nothing you can do about it."

Dan Boyle made it a one-goal game by scoring a sixth-attacker goal with 1:51 remaining. But Kiprusoff made a couple of big saves in the final minute to help the Flames win for the sixth time in eight games. He finished with 25 saves.

The Sharks, who also lost 3-2 at Vancouver on Thursday, have dropped six of their last seven away from home since an eight-game road winning streak. They visit the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday.

"It would have been easy to go on to Edmonton and not put up a fight," coach Todd McLellan said of his team's late rally. "Tonight we did that. Last night in Vancouver we did that. I think that's a real positive sign. It shows that we're starting to play our way through. It was a lot different than in Dallas the other night (an 8-2 loss on Tuesday).

"As coaches right now, we're walking a fine line -- whether we're kicking or hugging. I think some guys need a kick and some guys need a hug. We're finding out which guys need which."

With Calgary leading 2-1, Evgeni Nabokov got his pad on Backlund's hard shot, but Dawes backhanded the puck into the net at 9:04 of the second period for his 11th goal and first in 21 games since Dec. 17.

Nystrom's goal was similar, again coming on a Backlund rebound. Backlund took a pass from Jamal Mayers and pounded a shot on goal; Nystrom swept home the rebound at 11:03 for his ninth goal.

"Before the game, I heard (Nabokov) was a little shaky on his pads so they told us put the pucks on net," Backlund said. "I was trying to get pucks to the net and it worked out pretty good, I was happy to see those guys put the rebounds in.".

Backlund, who turned 21 on Wednesday, had been a healthy scratch the past six games before getting back into the lineup due to an injury to Curtis Glencross.

"Overall, it was a solid effort on everyone's part," Sutter said.

The Flames got off to a fast start, taking advantage of a pair of San Jose defensive lapses to take a 2-0 lead nine minutes into the game.

Jarome Iginla opened the scoring at 3:24. Left uncovered in the slot, the Flames captain one-timed Matt Stajan's pass into the open side before Nabokov could slide across. The goal came just seconds after a Flames power play ended.

Boyle then had his pass intended for Devin Setoguchi intercepted by Niklas Hagman along the sideboards. He promptly slid the puck to Daymond Langkow in the slot, and Langkow ripped a high wrister that caught the top corner at 8:52.

"The mistakes right now are ending up in our net," McLellan said. "I'm not insinuating anything about Nabby's play, because he was very good tonight. It's just that when we make a mistake, it finds its way to the back of the net. Earlier in the year that wasn't happening."

Dany Heatley made it 2-1 at 2:41 of the second period, ending a personal four-game goalless drought with his 37th goal of the season.

Nabokov has struggled since the Olympic break, allowing 26 goals in eight starts.

"We're a little big fragile, we're a little bit on our heals, but it's those timely stops that's killing us," he said. "I have to work hard to make those saves for the guys."

Material fromt team media and wire services was used in this report
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