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Gaudreau red-hot to pace Flames to big victory

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Some guys instinctively recoil from the pitiless glare of the spotlight. 

Others stride confidently to centre stage, feet planted firmly apart, soaking up the applause and basking in its illuminated glow.

And there is no greater spotlight in the game, anywhere, anytime, than when the Toronto Maple Leafs, travelling carnival retinue in tow and coast-to-coast fan base out in droves modelling those blue-and-white duds as if they were holy vestments, hit town.

"Johnny?" Michael Frolik glanced over to where Johnny Gaudreau, post-game, was encircled by a thicket of media mongrels. "He's really feeling it again, isn't he?


Video: "It was fun for the fans"


"Last year was special for him. In this league it's not easy to do what he did a second straight time. 

"So little tough start for those guys on the top lines but you can see a couple go in for him and the confidence skyrockets.

"He's starting to play like the Johnny we all know."

And love.

"I'm getting good looks, playing with a lot of different players,'' said Gaudreau, whose eighth and ninth goals of the season triggered an exhilarating 4-2 victory over the Leafs Thursday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome. "So it's been great. I've been getting a lot of chances and put a couple in tonight.

"We knew we needed to have a strong push to start the third there,'' said Gaudreau. "We found a way to score three quick ones and play well with the lead."

This was an entertainment played at a breakneck pace. Think of Usain Bolt vs. Tyson Gay staring down a 100-metre track, awaiting the gun.

"I'm sure it's fun for the fans. It's fun for us,'' agreed Gaudreau. "But a lot of times we've got to be smarter with the puck, with our turnovers, because they are so good on the rush.

"I think we did a pretty good job of that tonight."


Video: "I'm getting good looks"


The Flames had won six on the trot, while the Leafs boasted a 6-3 record in their last nine.

"That,'' critiqued Frolik, quite correctly, "was a helluva game. Obviously a lot of skill out there. We knew they're a pretty skilled team and they're rolling under a new coach. So are we.

"Even when we went down 2-1 going into the third we said in the room: 'It's just a one-goal game. Go out there and leave everything on the ice.'"

As Frolik mentioned, the now seven-in-a-row Flames turned that slender 2-1 Leaf advantage on its head in a 2:30 span to open the third, denting the until-then well-nigh-unbreachable Frederik Andersen for three unanswered.

As an opener, 19 ticks in, Gaudreau cashed a Mikael Backlund set-up, high glove side, a poison dart of a shot, to all-square matters. Frolik, 1:40 later, made good on a Tobias Rieder arrangement and then for good measure, 50 seconds after that, Gaudreau, sifting into open ice in front of Andersen, executed the nimblest of deflections to make the most of a Travis Hamonic point shot.

With both captain John Tavares and Mitch Marner in audacious form, the Leafs tried to respond but when the Flames killed off a 1:35 two-man disadvantage shortly after falling behind the deuce, much of the wind was snatched from their sails.

"That's the reason we won the game,'' reckoned Gaudreau. "It's a minute and a half 5-on-3 with five really skilled players out there. For our PK to kill that off, a great job on their part."

As a dead bolt door-locker, Flames' goaltender David Rittich stoned Tavares on a breakaway with 4:19 remaining and the Leafs desperately in search of some tangible reason to believe in a late comeback.

Along with the mercurial Gaudreau and the customarily-excellent Rittich, the Frolic-Reider-Mark Jankowski unit once again shone.


Video: TOR@CGY: Gaudreau, Frolik score three quick goals


"Actually, we kinda stick together a while,'' reasoned Frolik. "You can get the chemistry going when you stay together as a line. We talked about it. We talk before games about what we want to do, make sure we're on the same page.

"Obviously with the coaching staff (with interim boss Geoff Ward at the helm), we feel like we're more part of the part of the group as a fourth line.

"Wardo wants to roll four lines.

"We don't have many shifts but when we do we try to be in the offensive zone, make sure we cycle the puck and made some plays when they're there.

"I think we've been doing that lately."


Video: "Our team's been pretty resilient"


And how.

Not so long ago frantically trying to find their moorings, Thursday the Flames moved alongside the Edmonton Oilers in second place in the Pacific Division, two points in arrears of the Arizona Coyotes.

"Again I thought our group stayed composed, I thought they stayed on task,'' praised Ward. "We didn't change what we wanted to do, we just kept playing…and eventually we got rewarded for it.

"I'm most proud of how the guys have come together. They stick up for each other, they play for one another, and we're really starting to see a nice synergy in our team, and right now I'm happy for the guys. I'm proud of the way they're sticking to it, sticking together."

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