SUN Hockey Pool

Lasting effort

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 6:52 AM ET

He'd been pulled so often in Edmonton, Niklas Backstrom was probably developing a complex about playing at Rexall Place.

However, last night when the Edmonton Oilers could have used an off-night from the Minnesota Wild goaltender, Backstrom was on his game, turning aside 31 shots, including 16 in the third period in a 3-2 victory.

"It was nice to play a whole 60 minutes in here for once," Backstrom said. "It's a different feeling after a game when you get to play the third period."

In his four previous starts in Edmonton, dating back to last season, Backstrom had finished the game on the bench.

He gave up three goals on 11 shots in the first game between the two teams at Rexall Place this year and didn't get the call in the second.

"He made some big saves, especially at the end," said Wild head coach Jacques Lemaire. "The thing is that we kept backing up, especially at the end of the game. I was yelling at the guys to get on the puck more than they did. But I guess when you're afraid of making mistakes, you sit back more. We were lucky that we had Backstrom, who was really on his game, especially at the end."

Having played the night before in Calgary and nursing a lower-body injury, there was some question as to whether the Wild would be able to start their top goaltender.

However, needing a victory to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, Backstrom got the call and responded, this time able to make it past the first period.

"A lot of it depends how the rest of the team plays, too," said Lemaire. "He can't always win the game by himself for the team. I don't think we played that well in front of him in the previous games."

Against the Oilers last night Backstrom was at his best.

It started early when he slid across to rob Dustin Penner from in tight on a two-one-one rush. The Oilers forward was set up in the slot by Patrick O'Sullivan, and fired a shot toward the top corner before Backstrom was able to get a piece of it.

"It feels good to go out there and get a couple of stops at the beginning," Backstrom said. "It helps you get in the game and after that it's a little easier."

Heading into the contest, the Oilers were well aware of what the Wild goaltender was capable of doing. Despite getting pulled in his four previous games in Edmonton, Backstrom has only been credited with one loss to the Oilers.

At home, he's won all 10 starts against Edmonton, recording four shutouts.

Last night, he kept the Oilers off the board for two periods before Fernando Pisani banged one in from in tight and Ales Kotalik beat Backstrom with a one-timer.

The Oilers, however, could not score the tying goal, despite their best efforts, which included Shawn Horcoff trying to shove the goaltender into the net after covering up off a scramble in front.

"He was unbelievable for us," said Wild forward Marian Gaborik, who scored the game winner. "Thanks to him we were able to get the two points."

The win helped the Wild climb to within a point of the Oilers and three out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. With six games left, a loss would have essentially eliminated them from playoff contention.

"This team is never going to give up," Backstrom said. "We've been able to come back in games and hopefully we'll be able to come back in the standings. These are big games and it doesn't matter how you feel, you have to go out there and help your team."

DEREK.VANDIEST@SUNMEDIA.CA


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