Punctuating his 34-save shutout with a primal scream, David Rittich celebrated the kind of win that can turn a season. Exactly the kind the Flames needed.
Facing the NHL’s top team with a winless backup who learned of his start hours earlier, the Flames posted what could serve as a monumental turning point.
Consider some of the streaks the Flames 3-0 win over Toronto ended:
It was the Flames’ first win in four games. Rittich’s first win in nine decisions. Matthew Tkachuk’s first goal in 10 games. Sean Monahan’s first goal in 13 games.
And by blanking the Leafs’ power play on all seven occasions, including a lengthy 5-on-3, the Flames stopped some historic runs:
First time in 17 games Auston Matthews was held off the score sheet. First time in five games he didn’t score the game’s opening goal. First Calgary Flame ever to shut out the Leafs in Toronto.
“Big stage for us,” said Tkachuk, whose power-play tip-in midway through the game was his 100th career goal.
“Little extra motivation right before the game, finding out some things. So we were ready to go from puck drop today. We wanted to try to prove to ourselves especially that we still know we’re a great hockey team.”
He wouldn’t elaborate on the motivators, but whatever they were, the team responded for a start that saw Sam Bennett score four minutes in for the Flames’ first goal in a first period in six outings.
Shortly thereafter Morgan Rielly hit the first of three posts the Leafs would connect with on the night, setting the stage for the most unlikely win by a David at Scotiabank Arena since David Ayres jumped off his Zamboni to make history there exactly one year earlier.
“Obviously it was a huge win – a confidence booster for sure,” said Rittich, who learned of his fourth start Monday morning when team MVP Jacob Markstrom revealed an upper-body injury would shelve him day-to-day.
“We had a couple tough starts when we gave up a couple goals. But we were talking in the locker room about how we have to change it up and I’m really glad they changed it when I’m in net.”
Following a long flight from Alberta Sunday following a 7-1 loss against Edmonton, the Flames put in their most complete effort of the season, blocking shots, finishing checks and paying attention to the defensive details they’d abandoned over their three-game losing skid.
Their power play struck twice, the goaltending was sublime and the team was fully engaged, playing physically at both ends.
Tkachuk figured the game’s turning point came late in the second when the Flames staved off a two-man disadvantage for 1:36 that saw Rittich make several big saves against Toronto’s big guns.
“He was feeling it there,” said Tkachuk of Rittich, who’d lost all three previous starts this year.
“He was confident. He was calm. Just everything you want to see. I was so happy he got rewarded tonight. He’s kept us in every game he’s played so far this year. We just haven’t given him much run support and quite frankly been playing terrible in front of him.”
That changed dramatically Monday, as calls for significant change grew louder over the weekend by a frustrated fan base.
“We’ve got to jump on board and continue this,” said Monahan, who returned to the lineup after missing two games to score a third-period power-play goal.
“It’s a long year and there’s ups and downs and I don’t think we were playing great hockey, so this is a starting point for us. We know what’s at stake here.”
As important as leap-frogging Vancouver for fifth in the division is the much-needed confidence gained for a team that hadn’t won in its previous five games.
“The emotion and the smiles and everything else, there is a certain amount of relief with this,” admitted Flames coach Geoff Ward, who is taking as much heat as anybody of late for the Flames’ .500 season.
“It’s something we can build on. Full marks for the guys to respond.”
How Markstrom responds to treatment will be a tightly kept secret, although it’s almost certain Rittich will be handed the reins for another start Wednesday when they face the Leafs again.
“It’s something where he’s going to be daily for a little bit until we know more,” said Ward of Markstrom’s ailment.