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GRINDING IT OUT

Flames open up three-point lead for first in the Pacific with win over Blue Jackets

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

The goal is to be peaking at the right time.

A month from now, preferably.

Having secured their place in the spring dance and with the divisional crown next on their dutiful to-do list, the Flames - down their top-line centre and a versatile, two-way winger - knew they had their hands full with a desperate foe on the other side.

It's these, the grind-'em-out, tight defensive gems that will harden this club for the when the playoffs commence, Apr. 10.

With the Columbus Blue Jackets in must-win mode to keep their playoff hopes alive, there was a push - a big one, to the tune of a 12-6, third-period shot advantage - but the locals hang on, thanks to a tidy opening 40 that put the visitors on their heels.

Johnny Gaudreau, Andrew Mangiapane, Michael Frolik and Matthew Tkachuk (EN) supplied the offence, while David Rittich made 31 saves as the Flames opened up a three-point lead for first in Pacific with a 4-2 win over the Jackets at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

 

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In the victory, Austin Czarnik picked up his first-career multi-point game with a pair of helpers.

"I really liked the composure on the bench and some of the communication the guys were having," said head coach Bill Peters. "Just talking about it, this is the way it's going to be. It isn't always going to be free and easy; it isn't always going to be smooth.

"It was a bit of a grind tonight, but I thought the guys did a good job staying with it."

The win moves Calgary's record to 45-21-7 on the year, and a gaudy 24-7-5 on home ice.

"They had a push, for sure," said captain Mark Giordano. "They're a desperate team. Really, really big, strong team who plays well. ... It was an important two points for us tonight.

"I thought the guys really dug deep and played well."

Video: Frolik, Rittich help Flames hold off Blue Jackets

Zach Werenski opened the scoring for the Blue Jackets with his 11th of the season at 10:25 of the first. The Flames turned the puck over in the neutral zone and the visitors took off on a 2-on-1 counter-attack. Werenski looked off and beat Rittich under the blocker with a wicked, short-side snipe.

But the Flames got it right back, nabbing the equalizer less than two-and-a-half minutes later.

Gaudreau took a beautiful pass from his new No. 1 centre, Derek Ryan, loaded up in the high slot and sent a rising shot over the shoulder of Sergei Bobrovsky for his 35th of the year.  

Werenski nearly set up the go-ahead goal late in the period when he walked down the left wall and found Ryan Dzingel posted up at the doorstep, but with a sprawling Rittich selling out to make the stop in tight, the former Ottawa Senator rifled it off the near post.

It was one of three the Jackets hit on this night - fitting reversal of fortune, considering how Saturday's game against the Jets played out.

Video: CBJ@CGY: Rittich kisses the post after shot hits it

The missed opportunity proved costly as the Flames came right and scored a beauty with only eight seconds to play in the period, staking the homeside out to a 2-1 lead after one.

Mark Jankowski showed great hands in traffic, deftly navigating through a pair of white sweaters, before dishing off to Mangiapane, who did the rest of a nifty backhand tuck.

The Flames opened up a two-goal lead only 35 seconds into the middle frame, as Frolik knifed his way across the line and into the slot, put a filthy move on the back-pedalling Seth Jones, pulled it to the forehand and casually deposited his 15th of the year with a slick set of moves in tight.  

Video: CBJ@CGY: Frolik uses great move to pad lead

"It's a big win for us," Frolik said. "We know they're fighting for a playoff spot and they were going to come hard. They played well. They hit a few posts and we spent a little too much time in our zone. We don't like that and we need to be a bit better there, make sure we play more in the offensive zone and be little harder on the puck there.

"Overall, it's two points and we know we can be better.

"But it was a good effort and a big win."

Rittich wasn't overly busy in the front half of the second, but he and Giordano came up a colossal stop on a wild sequence midway through the period. Cam Atkinson got the puck at the side of the net and fired what appeared to be at the open side, but the skipper slid across and blocked it from inside the net, before Rittich emerged a long while after, holding the puck in his bare hand and showing it to the officials.

"We'll give him credit for it, but I felt like I got most of it," Giordano laughed.

The netminder agreed.

"He stopped that," Rittich said. "Nagano, '98. He learned something from that."

Oliver Bjorkstrand made it a one-goal game with a powerplay goal at 5:28 of the third, snapping a shot just under the bar from the top of the right circle as the Jackets entered the zone with speed.

The Jackets had two other chances to tie it with the man-advantage later in the period, but the Flames' penalty kill came up large.

Tkachuk added the empty-netter at 19:09 to salt this one away.

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