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Calgary Flames

Huberdeau, Backlund Rebound But Flames Fall 4-3 in OT … Again



Some things changed but enough concerning trends remained as the Calgary Flames coughed up a two-goal third-period lead and lost 4-3 to the New York Islanders.

They fell by the same score to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday — and also watched as the winning goal went in with a Flames player in the penalty box in extra time.

Giving up leads and taking penalties in OT isn’t a recipe for success. But having Mikael Backlund and Jonathan Huberdeau look like themselves is.

Backlund was stapled to the bench in the third period in the last game. Huberdeau has been the most critiqued Calgary Flames player all year.

So it is a positive sign that the two supremely talented players challenged by head coach Darryl Sutter rose to the challenge on Monday in New York.

Huberdeau set up Backlund for the game’s opening goal, and the veteran Swede added a second snipe a period later.

That pair gives Backlund five on the season — the hottest start of his career — and gave the Calgary Flames enough to earn at least a point in their first road game outside of the province of Alberta this season.

Despite the coach’s words and actions, telling reporters recently that Huberdeau needed to “speed up his game” and sitting Backlund (along with Milan Lucic and Kevin Rooney) in the team’s fourth straight loss at home, there was no real concern about either player.

Huberdeau hasn’t had the start he wanted. But that’s likely more because of the pressure he’s been putting on himself to make an impression on his new colleagues, coaches and fans after committing to an eight-year contract extension following his trade this summer.

You knew it was a matter of time before he got going. Last year’s NHL assist leader was up to his old tricks setting up Backlund’s first. They connected for two stellar scoring attempts during a dominant shift. The second was successful. Huberdeau dangled, then darted toward the net with the puck and sent a no-look backhand pass to Backlund in the slot.

Backlund released it quickly, shooting over the pad and under the blocker of Ilya Sorokin.

The Islanders tied it up in the first period with Jacob Markstrom’s odd early season statistglich of letting in the first shot on goal rise to four games so far. He had little chance to stop it, and the fact it took almost 12 and a half minutes for the Isles to get a shot on goal is a testament to how the Flames played from the start.

Elias Lindholm restored the lead with his fourth of the year. Noah Hanifin and Tyler Toffoli got the assists, but Huberdeau was planted in front of Sorokin for the critical screen.

Backlund added some padding with No. 5 coming from nearly the same spot as his first shot. This time, it was defenceman Nikita Zadorov setting him up after a fantastic play to keep the puck and and skate it into the right faceoff circle before turning back and feeding Backlund.

Things looked promising heading into the final 20 minutes.

But the Flames were playing one of the best third-period teams in the league and the Islanders showed why.

Anders Lee made it a 3-2 game and a tough giveaway by Flames defenceman Nick DeSimone in his NHL debut led to Kyle Palmieri’s tying goal, setting up overtime.

Sorokin stoned Lindholm in close to prevent the Calgary Flames from taking the extra point. And after a questionable call in OT, sending Rasmus Andersson to the box for cross-checking, it was Noah Dobson who won it for the Isles.

Markstrom was livid. The Flames goalie was toppled by Casey Czikas earlier but no call was made. The team deserved better overall, but have to find a way to protect leads and avoid the uncertainty of overtime.

Maybe the Huberdeau sighting is a good sign for things to come.