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Ekman-Larsson becomes 6th Swedish D-man to reach 100 goals

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s grandfather played with Börje Salming on the Swedish national team. Oliver met the NHL legend in Karlskrona, Sweden about six years ago.

“I got his autograph and got to talk to him a little bit,” Ekman-Larsson said, laughing. “He probably doesn’t remember me.”

On Monday against the Calgary Flames and his old teammate Mike Smith, Ekman-Larsson joined Salming’s exclusive company.

Ekman-Larsson beat Smith with a high wrist at 16:19 of the third period for his 100th NHL goal to break a tie. He and Max Domi added empty-net goals in the Coyotes’ 5-2 win over the Flames at Gila River Arena.

Ekman-Larsson’s 28 game-winning goals are the most among defenseman since he entered the league in 2010-11, and he is the sixth Swedish defenseman to reach 100 goals, joining his idol, Nicklas Lidström (264), Salming (150), Fredrik Olausson (147), Calle Johansson (119) and Erik Karlsson (125).

“It means that I’m doing something good out there and I’ve been fortunate to play with some good players that are setting me up,” Ekman-Larsson said. “It was nice to get it out of the way.”

Ekman-Larsson was more than just a goal scorer on Monday against the Flames. He was a tone-setter. Calgary desperately needed a win to keep pace in the playoff chase but the Coyotes didn’t care.

“We didn’t back off it,” said Coyotes assistant coach John MacLean, who was filling in for Rick Tocchet while he attended his mother’s funeral. “It wasn’t a friendly game. We started to dislike them a little bit and understand that it’s OK to dislike another team and push and push and push.”

Ekman-Larsson initiated the unpleasantries with a big hit on Calgary captain Mark Giordano along the boards in the first period that drew a borderline charging penalty.

“O played great the whole game and then for him to get that goal was tremendous,” MacLean said. “When you see one of the leaders match the intensity right away, not back off it, we didn’t shrink from that. We grew from that.”

After a rough start to the season, Ekman-Larsson has been playing his best hockey for the past three months, and he ahs added a physical edge to his game.

“I think he’s playing his best hockey. He’s playing like he wants to play in the playoffs,” Tocchet said recently. “Unfortunately, this year, it’s not going to happen for him, but I can tell he wants to sharpen his game going into next year and I think that’s the mindset we have to have.”

Ekman-Larsson was predictably low key about his milestone, but he did pause a moment to consider its magnitude.

“I obviously play a lot of minutes and I’m out there when you can win the games and you can lose the games,” he said. “That’s why I’m here.

“It’s nice to score that many goals. Hopefully, I will score 100 more.”

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