Make it two wins in as many games for Calgary Flames interim head coach Geoff Ward.
Elias Lindholm scored the game-winner late in the third period, then added an empty netter, to lead the Flames to a 3-1 victory on Saturday night over the Ottawa Senators.
Ward, 57, formerly the team’s associate coach, took over behind the bench on Wednesday night for Calgary’s 3-2 overtime win in Buffalo.
On Friday, head coach Bill Peters resigned, amid allegations of racial slurs and physical abuse of players in previous jobs. Peters’ resignation comes after a lengthy process that included investigations by the Flames and the NHL.
“The group’s been real resilient this week. They’ve found ways to pull together and it’s evident on the bench tonight,” said Ward, who has never previously been an NHL head coach.
Veteran Milan Lucic, named second star and one of the best Flames on the ice on Saturday with five shot attempts, knows Ward well, having spend seven seasons together in Boston.
“He’s been in the NHL for the last 13 years and I was lucky enough to spend his first seven and my first seven together,” Lucic said. “I gotta say, I’m happy to be here with him to see this opportunity that he has. Just try to rally around him, I know he’s going to do a great job and it’s up to us as players to buy in.”
Lindholm’s decisive goal came at 15:50 of the third period, just 1:01 after Jean-Gabriel Pageau had tied it 1-1.
Sean Monahan backhanded the puck high in the air and over defenceman Ron Hainsey, who put his arm up, but couldn’t reach it. As it landed behind him, Lindholm was right there and from in-tight, he quickly fired the puck over the shoulder of rookie Senators goalie Marcus Hogberg.
“He made a great play at the net to get that puck up from where he was,” Ward said. “We’ve talked about it a lot. When there’s not ice in front of you, get the puck behind and skate onto it.”
Lindholm leads the team with 14 goals in 29 games. It comes a season after scoring a career-high 27 goals.
Pageau’s 14th goal of the season came when he burst down the right side and fired a puck over the shoulder on the glove side of David Rittich, who said he was fooled by the release and thought he was going blocker side.
“I’m just trying to play within our game plan, keep things simple, shoot the puck. Right now it’s going in,” said Pageau, who scored 11 times in November. “It’s obviously good for confidence right now.”
Rittich didn’t have to stew about the game being tied for long.
“Obviously, when you’re able to score like a minute after, it’s huge,” said Rittich, who had 26 stops. “They had momentum and we scored right away and we basically killed their chances.”
Making his sixth consecutive start and league-high 23rd start for the season, Rittich improves to 12-7-4.
Dillon Dube also scored for Calgary (13-12-4). The Flames improve to 3-0-1 in their last four games.
Ottawa (11-15-1) has lost four straight, only managing four goals during that span. The Senators’ five-game road trip continues on Tuesday in Vancouver.
“I thought we came back trailing by one goal, showed some character from everyone. We didn’t quit, didn’t cheat to get that goal,” Pageau said. “It was good to get back and tie this up but it’s unfortunate that they got one right back after.”
Marcus Hogberg had 24 saves for Ottawa in his first start of the season and fifth of his career.
“I think he played real solid the whole way,” said Senators defenceman Thomas Chabot. “He made some big saves, that (Johnny Gaudreau) breakaway there, and plenty more during the game. We were lucky to have him. He was ready for it, ready for the challenge, and he played real well.”
Hogberg is up from Belleville (AHL) while Craig Anderson (lower body) is sidelined. Anders Nilsson played Friday night in Ottawa’s 7-2 loss in Minnesota.
Notes: Monahan played in career game No. 500… Calgary D Travis Hamonic (lower body) and RW Austin Czarnik (lower body) are back practising with the team and both are expected back soon. They’ve missed six and 17 games respectively. The Flames are not back in action until Thursday when the Buffalo Sabres visit.