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STAR OF THE SHOW

Rittich's impeccable showing leads Flames past Maple Leafs in a shootout

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

This had all the makings of a track meet.

The Flames - desperate for a win - on the opposite side of a banged-up D core, with a struggling goalie behind them, on a team that surrenders more than almost anyone else on the circuit.

The Leafs, meanwhile, had one the NHL's purest goal-scorers at their disposal. They were home, at Scotiabank Arena, where 27 of Auston Matthews' 34 strikes have come, as he hunts down a franchise record, along with his first-ever Rocket Richard Trophy.

At 3.66 goals per outing, nobody scores more than the Buds.

But keeping them out? Not their forte.

 

Video: Brendan Parker wraps up the win over the Leafs

 

So, with all this heavy artillery on both sides, who would blink last in what could surely be an electrifying, back-and-forth evening in downtown T.O.?

Oh, it was an all-star, alright.

In fact, he was officially declared one less than 36 hours ago.

David Rittich was mind-numbingly good, stopping 35 of 36 shots in regulation and overtime, before putting the finishing touches one of the best games of his career by silencing Jason Spezza, Matthews and Mitch Marner in the shootout.

A fitting conclusion, leading the Flames to a 2-1 triumph.

Rittich has now stopped 70 of 73 shots (.959) over the last two games after backing up the previous four.

Matthew Tkachuk, meanwhile, scored the winner, sliding a shot five-hole to help the Flames improve to 5-0 this year in the skills contest.

Derek Ryan had Calgary's lone goal before that, as the Flames move to 26-18-5 on the year.

After a quiet opening frame that saw the Leafs out-shoot the Flames 10-9, the visitors took over with a strong middle stanza.

Finally, at 7:34, Ryan opened the scoring with a pretty, low-slot redirect that beat Leafs goalie Frederik Anderson clean through the five-hole. Dillon Dube made a great play to extract himself (and the puck) from a logjam along the boards, freeing up the pass to Travis Hamonic at the point. With his head up, Hamonic locked on and whistled a shot that was tracking wide, but Ryan lunged and got a piece of it on the backhand, pointing it home for his ninth of the year.

 

Video: CGY@TOR: Ryan redirects Hamonic's shot into the twine

 

Moments later, Rittich stood tall with a pair of incredible stops to keep the 1-0 lead intact.

With the 'help' of Alexander Kerfoot, the Flames turned the puck over in the neutral zone, allowing the Leafs to turn it back the other way with numbers.

Kasperi Kapanen had the initial look with a sharp wrister from the top of the circles, while Andreas Johnsson looked to bury on the rebound - but on both, Rittich stuck out the left pad and kicked the puck to safety with a fine display of athleticism.

 

Video: CGY@TOR: Rittich makes two terrific saves in 2nd

 

Rittich was absolutely sensational, stopping all 25 shots he faced through two periods of play.

His best came later in the frame when he robbed - and we mean robbed - Mitch Marner with a larcenous, right-pad stop on the winger's wraparound try.

 

Video: CGY@TOR: Rittich stones Marner's wraparound chance

 

Post to post in nary a nanosecond.

Perhaps, even, his best of the year, until he one-upped his own heroics with an absolutely insane blocker save off Matthews late in regulation.

Matthews took a feed from Marner on a 2-on-1, elevated the one-time attempt, but was met immediately by a sprawling Rittich to keep it a 1-1 game late in the contest.

High.

Way.

Robbery.

 

Video: CGY@TOR: Rittich uses his blocker to rob Matthews

 

Unfortunately, Rittich could only hold the fort for so long. A powerplay goal by William Nylander at 8:35 evened things up, spoiling the shutout bid and putting the game very much for grabs.

With Tobias Rieder in the box, John Tavares made a great play on the strong side, faking a shot, and then leaning into a hard, cross-crease pass that connected with his teammate at the lip of the blue paint.

Rittich had no chance.

Moments later, Nylander had a chance to give the Leafs their first lead as he made a great move to split the D and charge in alone, but Rittich stood tall and calmly punched the ensuing shot away with the meat of his blocker.

And he wasn't done yet.

In overtime, he stoned Kapanen - again - with another 10-beller as Justin Holl and the Leafs broke in on a 3-on-1. Rittich went side to side, kicked out the left pad, and masterfully took away what looked to be the game-winner.

 

THEY SAID IT:

RITTICH ON GETTING THE W:

"It's great. This is why we came here. I was a hard game. I'm kind of tired right now and can't wait to (get on) the airplane. It's great. They got like five or six guys who can rip the puck and can score anytime they get (it), so... It wasn't easy."

DID ANY SAVE IN PARTICULAR STAND OUT?

"I don't know. Ask my groin."

 

Video: "Both goalies were both. It was a great game"

 

TKACHUK ON RITTICH'S HEROICS:

"You want to reward him. You want to do everything in your power to win the game for him. He was our best player tonight, easily. For us to reward him, that was definitely on my mind and I know it was on the other guys' minds as well. We had to play solid in front of him. In OT, I thought we had a lot of looks - we had way more looks than they did, which is hard to against all their offensive starts, but we can play with anybody. We've got a good team in there and we weere committed defensively tonight and Ritter was definitely fantastic."

 

Video: Tkachuk on Rittich's great game

 

RYAN ON TKACHUK'S CLUTCH MOVE IN THE SHOOTOUT:

"I'm sure he'll get booed in Edmonton more than he did here (laughs). He just thrives in the moment. He loves to be in the spotlight, he loves to be in the high-pressure situations."

GEOFF WARD ON RITTICH'S GREAT NIGHT:

"He was excellent. When we needed a save, he made it. I thought we did a fairly good job defensively against an offensive hockey team. We kept them - from our count - in that 14 to 16 range in scoring chances. That was good by us and we found a way. We stayed with it and found a way at the end. All in all, I think we can be pleased with the game and now we'll move on to Ottawa."

WARD ON A WELL-ROUNDED EFFORT:

"We've been resilient for a long period of time now as a team. Guys just stayed in a present focus on the bench. They worked through it a shift at a time. We made sure we weren't giving them easy chances off transition. I thought we did a pretty good job staying with the details of it to stay above the puck."

 

Video: "We've been resilient for a long period of time now"

 

ONE-TIMERS:

Historically, Toronto has not been an easy place to win for the Flames, entering the night with a 21-34-7-2 lifetime record in the Big Smoke. However, the visitors have now won two straight in southern Ontario, along with a modest, three-game point streak. Their last regulation loss in Toronto came way back on Jan. 23, 2017. ... The Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund line was a force for the Flames on this night. The trio finished with a 60.87% of the shot attempts at even-strength, a 10-6 (or 62.5%) split of the scoring chances, a 2-1 share of the rush attempts, and a flawless, 3-0 edge in rebound tries. In total, Gaudreau led the team with six shots on goal, while Backlund contributed three.

 

THE LINEUP:

Here are the forward lines, D pairings and goalie to start the game:

FORWARDS

Matthew Tkachuk - Elias Lindholm - Andrew Mangiapane
Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Mikael Backlund
Milan Lucic - Derek Ryan - Dillon Dube
Sam Bennett - Mark Jankowski - Tobias Rieder

DEFENCE

Mark Giordano - TJ Brodie
Noah Hanifin - Travis Hamonic
Oliver Kylington - Rasmus Andersson

GOALTENDER

David Rittich

Scratched: Zac Rinaldo, Michael Stone

 

UP NEXT:

The Flames finish up this three-game road trip with a stop in nation's capital on Saturday to face Brady Tkachuk and the Senators in a rare matinee. Then, following the bye week an NHL All-Star Weekend, the Flames return home to the Scotiabank Saddledome on Tuesday, Jan. 28, as they host the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues (click here for tickets), before travelling to Edmonton the very next night for Round 3 of the Battle of the Alberta.

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