ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Calgary Flames are out of the playoff picture, and playing like a team that feels no pressure to do anything but have fun. It's the opposite for the Minnesota Wild, who are suddenly feeling lots of heat as they struggle to clinch a postseason trip.
The Flames' late-season surge continued on Sunday in a 4-1 victory over the Wild. It was the fifth win in the past six games for Calgary, which seems to be enjoying playing spoiler. Mike Cammalleri, Mikael Backlund, Jiri Hudler and Mark Cundari scored for the Flames, who were playing with many new faces in the lineup. Goalie Joey MacDonald had 34 saves in the win.
"Right now our goaltending is great and our special teams are doing good," said Flames coach Bob Hartley, after Calgary scored three power play goals. "The line is very fine between winning and losing in their league and right now everyone is contributing. Whoever we put in the lineup, they play with pride. Yes, some people might say we have zero pressure and the guys are loose, but at the same time they deserve credit."
Zach Parise had the only goal for the Wild, who are still solidly in the playoff picture, but fell to 0-4-1 in their last five home games. Minnesota has three games remaining and needs to win at least two of them to clinch its first playoff berth since 2008.
"Well, we certainly don't seem to like doing things the easy way," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "If we're going to sit here and pretend that other teams aren't feeling the same thing, then you're kidding yourself. That's part of the challenge. You should actually relish that."
Calgary struck first, getting on the board via an unlikely source. Cundari, playing in his first NHL game, scored on his first NHL shot, snapping off a rising wrist shot that caught the upper right corner of the net. Cundari came to the Flames' organization on April 1 in the trade that sent Jay Bouwmeester to St. Louis.
Minnesota tied the game when Parise took a pass from linemate Charlie Coyle and got free in front of the Calgary net, sliding a low shot around MacDonald, who had sprawled out in an unsuccessful effort to stop the puck. It was the team-leading 17th goal of the season for Parise, who was in no mood to talk silver linings after the loss.
"At this time, you get kind of tired about trying to search for positives," he said. "We want to win games, and that's a game we needed to win. Unfortunately we didn't and now we can't afford any more mistakes the way things are, the way things are shaping up right now."
The Wild dominated long stretches of the second period, outshooting the Flames by a margin of better than 2-to-1 through 40 minutes, but found themselves trailing again after the Flames cashed in on one rush to the Minnesota crease. Lee Stempniak barreled to the front of the Wild goal, only to be stopped by Niklas Backstrom, but Minnesota could not clear the puck before Backlund tapped in a loose puck for a 2-1 Flames lead through two periods.
"Everyone has a lot of pride and you want to compete and you want to do well," said Stempniak of his team's late-season attitude. "Along the way if you spoil some playoff hopes, that's nice to do, but I think the motivation comes from within for us. We're just building for next year at this point. We've got a lot of young guys who are getting opportunities and we're trying to develop a winning culture, a hard-working culture and that identity for next year."
Cammalleri added a third period power play goal, and Hudler scored into an empty net for Calgary.
Backstrom finished with 20 saves for the Wild, who host the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday. Calgary, which finishes the season with four in a row on the road, travels to Nashville for a Tuesday game with the Predators.
"When you have a lot of young guys playing their first games, it's kind of easier when you're playing on the road," said MacDonald. "They're fighting for a playoff spot, right there with Detroit. For us, we've got three more games, tough teams, so we'll just keep battling the way we are."
NOTES: Flames rookie winger Ben Hanowski played his first professional game in his home state on Sunday. Hanowski signed with Calgary nine days ago, shortly after his collegiate season with St. Cloud (Minn.) State ended when the Huskies lost in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals in Pittsburgh. Hanowski was originally drafted by the Penguins but his rights were shipped to the Flames in the Jarome Iginla trade. Hanowski is Minnesota's all-time leading high school scorer. ... Baltimore Ravens starting center Matt Birk, who retired after winning the Super Bowl, received a rousing ovation when he was introduced before the game. Birk, who grew up in St. Paul, spent the first 10 seasons of his career with the Minnesota Vikings. ... Wild defenseman Ryan Suter was on the ice for nearly half of the first period (9:06) which is typical for him this season. Suter entered the game leading the NHL in time on the ice per game with more than 27 minutes of ice time per game on average, and has logged 30 minutes or more seven times.