Milan Lucic made it clear his 1,000th game in the NHL wouldn’t mean as much without Calgary securing a much-needed victory.
Johnny Gaudreau wound up delivering the goods against their former teammate in emphatic style.
The winger scored 36 seconds into overtime as the Flames defeated the Maple Leafs 3-2 on Tuesday in the ninth and final meeting between the clubs this season.
“Personally, it’s a great achievement,” the bruising Lucic said of his milestone. “It makes it that much better when you get a big win.”
Gaudreau took a pass from Elias Lindholm on a 2-on-1 in the extra period before deking to the forehand for his 15th goal of the campaign on David Rittich, who made his Toronto debut after being acquired from Calgary in a trade late Sunday.
“Lindy does a really good job of handling that puck off his skates,” added Lucic, who’s also logged 124 playoff contests in his career. “Once he makes that pass through to Johnny, he’s almost automatic.
“Beauty by him.”
Gaudreau, who also had an assist, said the Flames went through a couple shootouts in practice leading up to Monday’s trade deadline when Rittich was still with the team.
“I normally don’t go to my forehand,” he said. “I think I fooled him a little bit.”
Lindholm and Juuso Valimaki scored in regulation for Calgary (18-21-3), while Jacob Markstrom made 24 saves as the Flames picked up consecutive wins for the first time since mid-March ahead of Wednesday’s trip to Montreal for a game against the Canadiens – the team they’re chasing for the North Division’s final playoff spot.
“A great teammate,” Gaudreau said of Lucic. “A guy that a lot of us in our locker-room look up to. To be able to be part of his 1,000th game and get a win for him was a great night.”
Zach Hyman, with a goal and an assist, and Alexander Kerfoot replied for Toronto (28-11-4). Rittich, who was still mostly sporting Calgary gear, stopped 25 shots.
“It was tough,” Rittich said of playing his old mates. “I’ve got some (lifelong) friends there.”
“Beautiful city, great guys,” he added of Toronto. “A bunch of beauties.”
John Tavares had two assists as the Leafs lost for the second time in as many nights after falling 4-2 in Montreal on Monday to snap a 9-0-1 run. Toronto finished 6-2-1 against Calgary in 2021 and sits seven points up on the Winnipeg Jets, who visit Scotiabank Arena on Thursday, for first in the North.
“He’s been great, loves to chat,” Tavares said of Rittich, who gave Jack Campbell a breather. “Quite the circumstances the last 48 hours for him. Probably the main reason we got a point.”
The deal for Rittich – Toronto shipped a 2022 third-round pick the other way – was just one of the trades made ahead of the deadline by Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas, whose other moves included acquiring forwards Nick Foligno and Riley Nash from Columbus, and defenceman Ben Hutton from Anaheim.
Rittich, who blanked his new team 3-0 on the same sheet of ice Feb. 22 and had a .941 save percentage in four starts against the Leafs in 2021, flew on the Flames’ charter to Toronto on Monday because of COVID-19 restrictions related to commercial travel.
“It was OK, a lot of chirps,” Rittich said of the strange circumstances. “Some guys didn’t hold back.
“But at least I had a chance to say goodbye to all of them.”
The visitors snapped a 1-1 tie 34 seconds into the second period with Mitch Marner in the box for tripping when Lindholm wired his 11th.
Markstrom made his best save of the night early in the third with a desperation effort at full stretch on Marner, but the Leafs got their equalizer at 6:17 when Kerfoot scored his seventh.
Toronto’s power play – an inexplicable 1 for 36 over the last 15 games – got its first chance midway through the period when Rasmus Andersson was assessed a double-minor for high-sticking, but couldn’t generate much of anything until Tavares hit the post late in the man advantage.
Calgary, which beat the Edmonton Oilers 5-0 on Saturday to snap a 1-8-0 slide before dealing centre Sam Bennett to Florida ahead of the deadline, opened the scoring at 4:37 of the first when Lucic found a wide-open Valimaki for his second.
Lucic, who took a couple solo laps in warm-ups usually reserved for rookies, got an ovation from both benches during the first TV timeout to acknowledge his 1,000th game.
“It wasn’t really a thing when I was a rookie to get the single lap,” Lucic said. “I never got to do it, so we thought no better time to do it than tonight.”
Toronto got even at 10:37 when Morgan Rielly’s shot off the end boards bounced to Hyman for him to pop his 15th upstairs on Markstrom. Rielly’s assist was the 300th point of his career, making him the sixth Toronto defenceman to reach that mark.
Lucic and Scott Sabourin, who made his Leafs debut and played his first NHL game since March 11, 2020, dropped the gloves off the ensuing faceoff, with the Flames winger needing repairs for a cut above his right eye.
“It was kind of funny,” Lucic said. “When I saw he was in the lineup, I knew there was probably a 100 per cent chance that he was going to ask me to fight. They had just scored and I said yes.”
“I congratulated him on his thousand games,” Sabourin said. “The next question was, ‘Hey do you want one?’
“He was nice enough to oblige.”
And the Flames did the same to get two points on Lucic’s big night.
“It just adds so much more to it, especially when we’re desperate for wins,” said the 33-year-old. “We get a big win like that against the best team in our division. We fought hard all night long.
“Kudos for my teammates and coaches for stepping up and getting the win to add onto the milestone.”