NHL: Flames set back Wild’s playoff push
ST. PAUL — Joey MacDonald made 34 saves, Mark Cundari scored a goal in his first NHL game and the Calgary Flames beat Minnesota 4-1 on Sunday night to hand the Wild a potentially harmful home loss in their push for the playoffs.
Mikael Backlund, Mike Cammalleri and Jiri Hudler also scored for the Flames, who are long out of the postseason hunt but have won six of their last eight games.
Zach Parise got his team-high 17th goal for the Wild, who will likely at least need to win two of their three remaining games to make the playoffs without help from others. They’re in seventh place in the Western Conference with 51 points, while Columbus, Detroit, Dallas and Phoenix remain in a tight pack still alive behind them.
Minnesota lost despite outshooting the Flames 35-24.
The Wild, who are 0-6 in April against the six teams ahead of them in the West, were beaten Thursday at San Jose by a humbling 6-1 margin. They entered this final stretch, though, with the fortune of facing teams in the bottom four spots in the conference in three of four games counting this one against the Flames.
The Wild play at home Tuesday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings, who began the weekend in fourth place. They host Edmonton Friday and wrap up the regular season Saturday at Colorado.
Rookie right wing Ben Hanowski played his first NHL game in his home state, after being traded to Calgary from Pittsburgh in the Jarome Iginla swap last month and signing with the Flames last week following a four-year career at St. Cloud State. Before helping the Huskies reach the NCAA semifinals for the first time in program history two weeks ago, Hanowski grew up in Little Falls, about a two-hour drive from St. Paul. Hanowski’s former college teammates watched the game from a suite.
Trading Iginla and veteran defenseman Jay Boumeester signaled the official start of a renovation project for the Flames, who haven’t won a playoff series since they reached the Stanley Cup finals in 2004 and last reached the postseason in 2009.
But a young team with nothing to lose and a lot to prove can be just as dangerous of an April opponent as one fighting for a spot in the playoffs. The Flames won five of their previous seven games coming in.
McDonald won three of his four prior starts, allowing a total of eight goals. The only loss came at home against the Wild last Monday by a 4-3 decision, a game that Minnesota had to hang on to win after the pressure-free Flames scored twice late in the third period. Hanowski had a goal in that game, his NHL debut.
If the 36-year-old Miikka Kiprusoff doesn’t come back next season, MacDonald, who was signed off waivers in February after spending the previous two seasons with Detroit, will give Calgary a candidate to consider for the net. He was sharp all night, beat only by Parise on a slick-passing, extra-effort score by Minnesota’s first line.
Mikko Koivu muscled the puck away from the end boards and passed to Charlie Coyle, who sent a one-touch feed to Parise to MacDonald’s left. He speed-skated a half-circle around the crease to poke the puck in before MacDonald could pivot all the way to his right.
But that wasn’t nearly enough for the Wild.
Cundari, who came to the Flames in the trade with St. Louis that sent Boumeester to the Blues, scored on a power play in the first period. Backlund’s goal came in the middle of the game when Lee Stempniak muscled through Wild defenseman Brett Clark to set up the score. Then Cammalleri added another man-advantage goal and Jiri Hudler tacked on an empty-netter for good measure in the final minute.
For the Wild, this felt like their previous home game, April 13 against Columbus, when they outshot the Blue Jackets 41-22 but lost 3-2 in a shootout. They controlled the pace of play at almost every point in the evening, but Calgary refused to quit. Clayton Stoner tried to fire up the home crowd by fighting with Cory Sarich in the second period, but Backlund scored to put the Flames back in front and quiet the building less than 3 minutes later.
NOTES: The Wild fell to 11-4-2 against Northwest teams this season, ending an eight-game intra-division winning streak. ... St. Paul native and recently retired NFL player Matt Birk, who spent 10 seasons with Minnesota and four with Baltimore, was at the game to make the traditional “Let’s Play Hockey” call to introduce the puck drop.