The Minnesota Wild are planning on having Niklas Backstrom(notes) make his first start in nearly three weeks against the Calgary Flames, but Anton Khudobin(notes) isn’t making this an easy decision for coach Todd Richards.
Khudobin, coming off his second straight brilliant performance in goal, is expected to be the backup Wednesday night, as Backstrom looks to continue his recent dominance over the Flames.
Backstrom hasn’t played in nine games for the Wild (23-18-5) because of a hip injury. Richards was considering giving Backstrom his first start since Dec. 31 in the opener of a four-game road trip Tuesday in Edmonton, but opted to go with Khudobin.
The decision proved a very good one as the rookie came within 3:46 of recording his second straight shutout.
After making 32 saves in Sunday’s 4-0 win over Vancouver in his third career start, Khudobin stopped 31 shots in Tuesday’s 4-1 victory at Edmonton.
“I have a lot of confidence right now,” Khudobin said. “I don’t really care that much about the shutout. The W is better for me.”
Tuesday’s win was the second straight for Minnesota following a three-game losing streak. Pierre-Marc Bouchard(notes) and Brent Burns(notes) each had a goal and an assist, while Matt Cullen(notes) and Andrew Brunette(notes) also scored.
Minnesota is within three points of the Western Conference’s final playoff spot, and to make the postseason for the first time since 2008 it will likely need Backstrom to provide stability in goal.
This shouldn’t be asking too much of Backstrom against Calgary.
Backstrom is 3-0-1 with a 1.22 GAA against the Flames this season, yielding one goal in each of the victories. He is 7-1-1 with a 1.22 GAA and two shutouts in his last 10 starts against the Flames, and 3-0-0 with a 0.80 GAA in his last four at the Saddledome.
The Flames (20-20-6) might also have some questions about who to start in goal.
Miikka Kiprusoff(notes) was pulled for the second time in three starts in Monday’s 5-4 overtime loss to Montreal after turning away 13 of 17 shots. His replacement, rookie Henrik Karlsson(notes), stopped the first 11 shots he faced before P.K. Subban(notes) beat him for the game-winner.
Karlsson has a 1.79 GAA in three games since last Tuesday, while Kiprusoff has a 4.61 GAA in three games over the same stretch.
Kiprusoff has also not had much luck lately against the Wild, going 1-7-2 with a 2.48 GAA in his last 10 games. He stopped 32 shots in a 3-0 home win over Minnesota on Nov. 29, but has lost his other three starts against the Wild this season.
Karlsson, meanwhile, was solid in his only career start against Minnesota, stopping 20 shots in a 3-2 shootout victory Dec. 3.
The Flames have lost five of their last seven games, but have earned at least one point in each of the last five (2-0-3).
Earning a point Monday seemed unlikely with Calgary trailing the Canadiens 4-0 just over 6 minutes into the second period, but the Flames managed to mount a furious comeback to force overtime.
“We know we can come back,” said Alex Tanguay(notes), who scored the game-tying goal early in the third. “Obviously you don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot in the first period like we did but those things happen and we’ll take the point and get ready for the next one.”