Five days after winning the Battle of Alberta, the Flames won the battle of all-star goaltenders at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday night.
David Rittich, who was chosen to replace Arizona’s injured Darcy Kuemper, made 35 saves as Calgary eked out a 2-1 shootout victory over Toronto. Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen, who will also be appearing in the all-star game for the first time, stopped all but one of 32 shots sent in his direction.
Matthew Tkachuk squeezed a quick shot between Andersen’s legs in the shootout. Rittich turned back Jason Spezza, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner in his 19th win of the season.
“We generated a number of chances that on any other night would have gone in for us,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. “[We had] two all-stars going head to head and it worked out to a low-scoring affair.
“That is the way it works out.”
Derek Ryan, a third-line centre, tipped a shot by Travis Hamonic past Andersen in the second period as Calgary took a 1-0 lead. The crowd erupted and waved white towels – a give-away – when William Nylander tied it 1-1 with 11:25 left in the third.
Both goalies were superb down the stretch and in the three-on-three overtime.
“It was a great game to watch if you are a goalie fan,” Cody Ceci, the Maple Leafs defenceman, said. “Rittich played awesome for them and Freddie was great for us, too.
“That is why it ended 1-1.”
It was Calgary’s sixth victory in its past seven games. The Flames are also 9-2-1 in 12 outings as a visitor since Nov. 23.
“I thought it was an even game all the way through, and the scoreboard reflected that,” Keefe said.
Two days after scoring seven in a rout of the New Jersey Devils, Toronto had problems solving Rittich. Its final game before the week-long break is Saturday at home against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Maple Leafs failed to score on three of four power plays. They also played excellently on defence despite Morgan Rielly missing his second successive game with a fractured left foot and Jake Muzzin continuing to be sidelined, also by a broken foot.
Rielly is not expected back until late in the season, but Muzzin could return for Toronto’s first game of the second half at Nashville on Jan. 27. He has not been in the lineup since he was hurt at New Jersey on Dec. 27.
The Maple Leafs got off to a fast start, managing four shots over the first 2 minutes 34 seconds. Kasperi Kapanen scorched the last one from 48 feet away but it was denied by Rittich with a lunging save.
At the same time, Andersen held court at his end. With 48 seconds left in the first period, he nabbed a slap shot by Noah Hanifan that appeared destined for the corner of the net.
Toronto outshot Calgary through the first 20 minutes 10-9 but struggled to advance the puck out of its own end as the period wore on. Nearly 10 minutes passed between its ninth and 10 shots, the latter from beyond centre ice by Matthews with one second left
It was the first time Matthews has been held without a goal on home ice since Dec. 4 against Colorado. He had scored in eight straight games at Scotiabank Arena and has 27 goals in 24 home games. In a rare night, both he and David Pastrnak of Boston were shut out. Matthews trails Pastrnak, the league-leader with 36 goals, by just two.
The game was the second and final between the teams this season. In their only previous meeting, the Flames rallied from a 2-1 disadvantage in the third period for a 4-2 victory. It is the only game Toronto has lost in regulation all season when leading after 40 minutes. It is 18-1-2 when it leads heading into the third.
“It was a game we let get away from us,” John Tavares, the Maple Leafs captain, said earlier in the day. “It left a little bit of a bitter taste in our mouth. We would like to flip the script today.”
Calgary entered the game third in the Pacific Division but with a chance to move into first place pending the outcome of Arizona’s late game at Vancouver. It has an all-star in Rittich, highly skilled players in Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Mark Giordano and one of the game’s most annoying antagonists in Matthew Tkachuk.
Earlier Thursday, Tkachuk talked about the importance of beating Toronto.
“It is a big-time team with a lot of great players over there,” he said. “It is a huge game for us [when we are] where we are in the standings right now. These two points are crucial, especially with a break coming up.”
The Maple Leafs have only the game with the Blackhawks on Saturday before everyone but Andersen and Matthews get to take a rest. It has been a topsy-turvy season that has included a coach’s firing but they are in a strong position to make a bid for the playoffs.
“A lot has gone on, but I think we have continued to stay with it,” Tavares said. “We know it is a long season. We have stayed the course and understand that there is a lot ahead of us still.”
The loss dropped the Maple Leafs 25-17-6 but they remain in third place in the Atlantic Division. They earned one point and nearly stole a second.
Rittich kept that from happening.
“Both teams had a lot of chances to score,” he said. “Andersen was pretty good, too. In the shootout, he poke-checked the puck away from Spezza, stopped a blistering shot from Matthews and then stopped Marner to win the game.
“I know he has more moves than he [had] already showed,” Rittich said. “I know him.”
Rittich improved to 5-0 in shootouts but was a bit sore after making save after save.
“Ask my groin,” he said.