Thursday night was all about Niklas Backstrom playing against the only other team he'd ever known. Zach Parise decided to welcome him back with a hat trick as the Wild trounced the Flames 6-2 in front of 19,032 at Xcel Energy Center. Parise, who has been displaying some frustration recently, broke out in a big way as he tallied his third hat trick of the season, with two-thirds of the hat trick coming just 46 seconds apart. Jared Spurgeon added two power play goals himself as the return to Xcel Energy Center for Backstrom will likely be one he wants to forget.
The Wild came out swarming the Flames net. At 5:21 of the opening period, Mikko Koivu won an offensive zone faceoff cleanly back to Mike Reilly. Reilly then dumped the puck deep. Parise corralled the puck at the other side of the net and popped the puck over Backstrom for the first goal of the game. Forty-six seconds later on a rush up ice, Koivu dished to Parise, who sent a sweeping backhander on net that sneaked through Backstrom. Nik would likely want to have that goal back. Mikko Koivu ended up tripping Mikael Backlund and on the ensuing power play for the Flames, Johnny Hockey scored and beat Devan Dubnyk with a snipe. It was Johnny Gaudreau's 28th of the season. Parise would complete his hat trick later in the first period on the power play. He camped out front and screened Backstrom from seeing a Ryan Suter shot incoming from the point. Parise was able to get a stick on it and deflect is past the old Wild netminder to re-gain the two goal lead.
In the second period, the Wild allowed the Flames to test Dubnyk. Dubnyk was mostly equal to the task. Something called Jakob Nakladal scored his second goal of the season when he entered the Wild zone and let go a rocket slap shot from just inside the Wild blue line that beat Dubnyk as it sneaked just underneath the crossbar. Jared Spurgeon then added a goal of his own when he pinched down deep on the left wing side because Suter was taking a shot. After Backstrom struggled with the rebound, Spurgeon tapped the puck home for a 4-2 lead.
The power play was 3-for-5 in the game, while the PK was 4-for-5, easily making special teams the difference maker in this game.
In the third period, it appeared that Matt Dumba and Nino Niederreiter had teamed up for a the Wild's fifth goal of the night. Flames coach Bob Hartley challenged the goal, and it was waved off for incidental contact with the goaltender as it was clear that Niederreiter got tangled up with Backstrom in the blue paint. It didn't take long as Spurgeon then pushed the lead to three goals after Spurgeon received a cross-crease pass from Parise and shot it between Backstrom's left pad and the post. The second Spurgeon goal was another example of him creating problems with mismatches down low with a deep pinch. Also, the official scorers called the goal unassisted, though Parise had everything to do with the puck getting to Spurgeon. Nino Niederreiter would then get a pass from Jason Pominville, who returned to the line up from a lower body injury Thursday night, to score on a wicked, filthy, nasty, (enter adjective here) back-handed shot over the glove of Backstrom.
Dubnyk stopped 31 of 33 shots en route to his 30 victory of the season.
Backstrom is now 1-1 in two starts this season; all with Calgary.
Minnesota is still ahead of Colorado in the standings regardless of an Avalanche win Thursday. Those two teams will faceoff in Denver on Saturday.
During the first TV timeout of the first period, the Wild saluted Backstrom for his contributions to the franchise over the last nine seasons with a video tribute. Wild fans gave him a standing ovation while he gave a nod to the crowd in return.