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Wild let one slip away with loss to Flames

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- For large stretches of Sunday's game against the Calgary Flames, the Minnesota Wild didn't play badly. In fact, the Wild dominated big chunks of both the first and second periods.

But the Flames took advantage of chances at the right times and got a fantastic game from goaltender Joey MacDonald in goal in a 4-1 win at Xcel Energy Center.

The Wild, once 13-3-1 on home ice, have now lost five straight games in downtown St. Paul. The Flames have won three in a row and four of five overall.

"We certainly don't like to do things the easy way, that's for sure," Wild coach Mike Yeo said.

MacDonald stopped 34 shots, but he was especially good during big stretches in both the first and second periods. The Wild held a 14-5 edge in shots after one and a 25-12 advantage after two with MacDonald covering for a number of turnovers and sloppy defensive play in front, which afforded the Wild plenty of Grade-A chances through 40 minutes.

"He made some big saves, more than he needed," said Flames forward Lee Stempniak. "Gave them second and third chances that are tougher to save and he played a great game. I don't think we would have won without the way he played."

Its been an up-and-down weekend for MacDonald, who was ill all day Saturday. But a one-year contract extension got Sunday off to a good start, a day he capped with a sparkling performance.

"Wasn't a very good day yesterday," MacDonald said. "Felt a little better today, but once you start playing, you don't really think about it."

Minnesota gained a pair of power play chances in the first period but were unable to capitalize, opening the door for Calgary to grab the lead 59 seconds into its first man-advantage 13:37 into the contest. Rookie defenseman Mark Cundari's snipe from the right circle was his first career goal in the NHL -- in his first career game -- giving the Flames a 1-0 lead.

"Never thought I'd get a chance on the power play in my first game, but I did," Cundari said. "Took a quick glance at the net, saw space. Just put it on net high and it happened to go right over his shoulder. It was surreal, I didn't even know how to react, I kind of just froze there for a second."

Cundari also assisted on a goal and finished the game a plus-1, playing a total of 24:54, second-best on the team.

"Sometimes, you meet a young man and you have a talk. Talk is cheap, but I really had a good feeling," Hartley said. "He has great body language. I was anxious to see him on his first shift. I told my [assistant coaches] we'd throw him out there in the starting lineup and see what he's got. I'm quite impressed."

Zach Parise evened things up late in the period, taking a great pass by Charlie Coyle from the slot and waiting out MacDonald in front, beating him for his 17th of the year at 18:44.

The goal gave Minnesota a big boost to start the second as the Wild dominated much of the first eight minutes of the middle frame, hitting a pair of posts in the process.

But the Flames staved off the attack and grabbed the lead for good when Mikael Backlund slammed home a loose puck in front of Niklas Backstrom after the Wild goaltender had stopped a Stempniak breakaway. The goal, at 8:50 of the second, was Backlund's eighth of the year.

Despite dominating much of the game to that point, Minnesota trailed 2-1 after 40 minutes. Was there a level of frustration setting in?

"That's part of it and you have to deal with it," Yeo said. "That's not easy and I don't think we did a very good job of it in the third period."

Calgary played its best hockey all night in the final period, clearing pucks and giving the Wild few opportunities to knot the game. With 7:20 remaining in regulation and on the power play, Mike Cammalleri gathered in a blocked shot from the point at the right circle and beat a sprawling Backstrom to give the Flames a big two-goal advantage, sending many fans to the exits early.

Jiri Hudler dashed the hopes of those remaining with an empty-netter -- the Flames’ third power-play goal of the night -- with 31 seconds remaining.

Calgary, which wraps up the season with four straight road games, is playing some of its best hockey of the year as the roster seems to gets younger by the night. The Flames scratched 11 players Sunday -- many of whom are veterans.

"I looked around the room before the game and I think I counted eight Abbotsford (the Flames' American Hockey League affiliate) guys," MacDonald said. "They've played together down there and it's the same systems and everything. We have a lot of youth and they're just playing. They're playing hard and they've got a lot of energy in the room, which is nice, short schedule, and when you've got a lot of energy in the room, it helps."

The loss doesn't help the slumping Wild's Stanley Cup Playoffs hopes as Minnesota clings to one of the final two spots in the Western Conference. With three of its final four games at home and against non-playoff teams, Minnesota has an opportunity to get things going before the postseason begins next week.

A loss to Calgary however, just 5-13-2 on the road entering play Sunday, doesn't help the Wild’s chances. Now just 3-7-1 over its past 11 games and with 51 points, Minnesota is just three points ahead of the ninth-place Detroit Red Wings and four up on the 10th-place Dallas Stars with three games to play.

"We didn't have enough. We played some good stretches, but we can't lose that game," Wild forward Matt Cullen said. "Obviously we're not happy with our play, but we have to put it behind us and get back to work.

"We just need a better effort from everybody. We control our own destiny. We have three games left and we have to have our best three games."

The Wild face a critical test Tuesday when the Los Angeles Kings come to St. Paul in the second game of a three-game homestand.

Calgary ends the season with three straight against the Central Division, continuing its trip Tuesday in Nashville.

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