Johnny Gaudreau was not going to let his Calgary Flames fall behind in yet another first period, scoring a pivotal breakaway goal less than five minutes into Thursday’s game.
Gaudreau then set up Sean Monahan’s game-winner midway through the second as the Flames snapped a five-game losing skid at home with a 4-3 victory over the New York Rangers.
Having falling behind 3-0 early in each of the last two first periods on home ice — both regulation losses — it was Calgary (21-17-5) that got the early jump on this night with Gaudreau beating Henrik Lundqvist at the 4:15 mark.
“I was just coming down fast, had a lot of speed, I was going to shoot, last second I decided to go to my backhand and put it through the five-hole,” said Gaudreau. “We haven’t had great starts the past few games here in the Saddledome, so it was nice to get off to an early lead.”
Monahan was impressed by the speed his longtime linemate showed.
“Johnny came out of a cannon there. He was flying. He was feeling it tonight,” said Monahan, who has four goals in his last six games and is up to 14 this season.
The Rangers (19-17-4) have given up 23 goals in their last five games, losing three of them.
“I don’t know how many scoring chances we gave up, but it’s the wrong guy to give a breakaway early on there,” said Lundqvist. “He’s pretty good.”
Three minutes later, the Flames scored a rare short-handed goal while down two men. Backlund intercepted Tony Deangelo’s cross-ice pass and took off on another breakaway, scoring on a similar move.
“To get that early from Johnny and then score on the shorty, it was obviously good for the group,” said Backlund, who has three goals in his last six games since ending an 18-game goalless skid.
While the Rangers struck back immediately with goals 25 seconds apart — Jacob Trouba on the two-man advantage and Filip Chytil on the ensuing one-man opportunity — Calgary regained the lead at 13:18 of the first when Derek Ryan got the puck high in the slot, spun and whipped a shot past Lundqvist.
New York tied it up again when Kaapo Kakko’s shot found its way through a maze of bodies at 5:46 of the second. Less than three minutes later, Monahan restored the Flames lead, neatly finishing off a tic-tac-toe passing sequence with Gaudreau and Noah Hanifin.
It was the last goal of the game as both goalies settled in after tough starts. in which Talbot gave up two goals on his first three shots and Lundqvist was beaten three times on the first nine shots he faced.
“We were treating this like a must-win,” said Monahan. “We lost our last five here on home ice. We wanted to get going. (Talbot) in net, he’s done great work for us. We stepped up and did a good job tonight.”
Talbot finished the night with 24 stops and improve to 4-7-0.
“Not the best start for myself after we got up a couple, but I thought I battled well from there and made some big saves when I needed to,” said Talbot, who began his NHL career with the Rangers. “Give the guys credit, it could have pretty deflating after going up 2-0 then giving them both right back, but our guys battled hard, we believed in this room.”
Lundqvist turned aside 25 shots falling to 9-9-3.
“We’ve been giving teams too much, too easy,” said Rangers centre Mika Zibanejad. “We make it so hard on ourselves to really give ourselves a chance to win. It’s just not good enough.”
Adam Fox had three assists for New York. The Rangers fall to 1-2-0 on a four-game road trip that wraps up Saturday night in Vancouver.
“As a whole we’ve just got to play better defence. We’re giving up too many goals. You can’t score five goals every game, expect to win like that,” said New York defenceman Marc Staal.
Calgary’s late afternoon trade of Michael Frolik to Buffalo forced interim head coach Geoff Ward to shuffle of his forward lines including returning Backlund to right wing on a line with Gaudreau and Monahan, where he had been playing, and inserting centre Mark Jankowski... New York left-winger Chris Kreider played in his 500th NHL game... Trouba’s goal was his 200th career point.