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Tkachuk and Rittich come up big in win but Flames looking to improve game and avoid needing such dramatic finishes

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

The lungs, he freely admitted, were by then burning like lit logs prodded by fireplace bellows.

The legs had turned to Spanish moss.

With less than 30 seconds left in overtime and a shootout looming, the safety net of the bench seemed a welcome sight.

"Oh, I was gassed," confessed Matthew Tkachuk. "I thought I was tired but they had guys who'd been out there a full shift before me.
"So they were way more tired that I was.

"I saw that. We all recognized that. Probably I was just going to give it that one last crack and then I was going to come off."

One last crack is all he seems to require these days.

Slinging the puck net-ward, Tkachuk found enough space between the wickets of Arizona Coyotes' goaltender Antti Raanta at 4:26 of a catch-your-breath, chance-for-chance overtime to pull the Flames back from the abyss and transform them into 4-3 conquerers of the Arizona Coyotes at the Scotiabank Saddledome Tuesday night.

Not quite the artistic merit of his audacious between-the-legs overtime winner the other night in Nashville, but hey …

"This one," conceded Tkachuk, "was just a normal shot."

 

Video: "We played right into their hands the whole game"

 

That extra point is always a thing to behold, no matter how it might arrive.

"They're all beautiful,'' smiled Calgary boss Bill Peters. "They're a wonderful thing."

Especially when it caps a performance that grew in stature as the game wore on.

"The way were able to kinda, line after line, roll over them in OT, that was probably a nine-guy effort to build that goal,' said Tkachuk.

"But it's exhausting, playing from behind.

"I love scoring goals. Other than winning, it's probably the best part of being on the ice - the thrill when you score a goal.''

On a night where for long stretches nothing much in the way of progress seemed to happening for the homestanding Flames, Tkachuk lit the fuse, deflecting an Elias Lindholm shot to bring them to within one in the third, then - boom! - set off the dynamite in OT.

Skipper Mark Giordano counted the game-tying goal, at 17:19 of Period 3, the puck deflecting off a Coyote stick to leave Raanta stranded.

Cue No. 19.

Tkachuk now has compiled nine goals and a club-chart-topping 18 points.

 

Video: "If I can help the guys out, I'm really happy for it"

 

"He did a good job in the summer,'' joked David Rittich, stellar again in spitting back 34 of 37 shots, referencing Tkachuk and his extended late stay in overtime. "So he's in better shape than last year, and he can be on the ice for a long time."

As they had in Music City, the Flames - down 3-1 just pass the midway point of the third period - conjured up a comeback out of nothing, from seemingly nowhere.

"It's good to see the guys dig in at the end of games but I just don't think we were moving our feet,'' said defenceman Noah Hanifin.

"We did in the third and it showed. (In OT) you want to possess the puck. It's okay if you take it out, that's OK, they're still stuck in the zone and can't get a change."

Another ending dramatic enough for London's West End certainly didn't seem in the cards earlier on.

"We played right into their hands,'' sighed Tkachuk. "They've got a lot of players that play 200 feet. They're a big team - like, playoff-grind type team.

"They have some guys who can play with skill, put the puck in the net and are getting great goaltending. They're frustrating to play against.

Great team defence is their staple right now.

 

Video: "Hopefully over time we can get this straightened out

 

"Obviously Ritter played unbelievable for us. He was the best player on the ice, for sure. We really had no business other than Ritter to win that game.

"But they're a different Coyotes than we've seen in the past. They're a legit team, hard to play against."

Peters seconded the Rittich raves.

"He made big saves, allowed us to come back. He's been battling all year, he's been real good for us, so hopefully we can get this thing straightened out and tightened up so we don't have to rely on him so much."

They're leaning pretty heavily on Tkachuk at the moment, too. Continuing to expand in influence, he also proved instrumental in the Flames' opening strike, first drawing the penalty that put them on the powerplay, then spotting Johnny Gaudreau in acres of frozen space for a one-timer that ended the wee wizard's personal goal drought of a dozen games.

"Chucky's taking that leadership step this year," lauded assistant coach Martin Gelinas. "When the game's on the line, he wants to the be the guy to make it happen; the guy to be the difference.

"Even if he's not scoring, he'll be net front, he'll create a loose puck. He'll do something to change the momentum of the game.

"He's maturing. He's confident.

"He's been really good for us, obviously, but now he's taking it to another level, growing to be an elite, elite player."

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