Mark Giordano couldn’t decide what was more satisfying – his goal or the workmanlike performance he spearheaded in the defensive zone.
All that mattered to Calgary’s captain was the end result.
Giordano snapped a 3-3 tie in the second period and led the Flames’ shot-blocking clinic with a game-high five in Friday’s 4-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The visitors got in front of 29 shots – Toronto only managed to get 27 through – in a grinding effort two nights after getting blown out 7-3 on home ice by the Edmonton Oilers.
“They both feel really good,” Giordano said of the game-winner and putting his body on the line in key moments. “Not going to lie.”
“Big plays at big times,” Calgary head coach Darryl Sutter said of the 37-year-old’s showing. “The goal, obviously, is a big play … but he played heavy minutes and did a great job.”
Matthew Tkachuk, Derek Ryan and Christopher Tanev also scored for Calgary (15-13-3), while Rasmus Andersson added two assists.
Mitch Marner, Jason Spezza and Alexander Kerfoot replied for Toronto (19-10-2), which has lost six of its last seven games in regulation.
The struggling Frederik Andersen stopped just 14 of the 18 shots he faced for the Leafs, who will again look to get back on track Saturday when the teams play their sixth of nine meetings this season. Since returning from a lower-body injury March 3, Toronto’s No. 1 goalie is 2-5-0 with an .876 save percentage.
“No one’s losing their abilities over night,” Andersen said. “It’s just a matter of putting it together. It starts with me looking inwards and do what I can do to play my best and help the team.”
Toronto, which had four days off to reset between games after dropping a pair last weekend, had a nine-point lead atop the North Division standings March 3, but is now tied with Edmonton on points – albeit with two games in hand. The Winnipeg Jets, meanwhile, are two points back with one less game played.
“I know personally I didn’t lose my abilities to play good,” Andersen said. “The same goes for our team.”
Sporting their white and green St. Pats jerseys, the Leafs got a boost with the return of Wayne Simmonds to the lineup after the heart-and-soul winger missed the last 18 games with a broken wrist. Backup goalie Jack Campbell (leg) also suited up for the first time since Jan 24, while winger Alex Galchenyuk – the No. 3 overall pick in 2012 now with his seventh NHL organization since June 2018 – debuted for Toronto on a line with John Tavares and William Nylander.
Down 3-2 after a wild first period where saves were at a premium, the Leafs got even when Marner wristed his 12th past Markstrom at 3:48 of the second.
Toronto defenceman Justin Holl then rocked Johnny Gaudreau with an open-ice hit near the boards that drew Calgary’s attention, with Flames defenceman Juuso Valimaki going off for roughing.
Holl would eventually answer the bell with Tkachuk in a strange fight where the blueliner went to pick up his gloves after originally dropping them when challenged before both players finally started swinging fists.
“I, personally, thought it was a clean hit,” Holl said. “But the nature of the game is you got to answer for it.”
“I don’t really know what was going on there,” Tkachuk said of the stop-start scrap. “And I don’t really know what he thought was going on either.”
But the message the Flames were trying to send was clear.
“Don’t touch Johnny,” Tkachuk said. “I don’t think a lot of guys liked the hit.”
Calgary connected on the power play later in the period three seconds after Ilya Mikheyev went off for holding when Giordano blasted his fourth on a one-timer past Andersen.
NHL goal leader Auston Matthews hit the post for the Leafs from in tight just over five minutes into the third before Markstrom shut the door on a Spezza redirection. Toronto’s second-ranked power play went to work off that sequence, but couldn’t connect.
The Leafs got another man advantage with under eight minutes to go in regulation, but Markstrom dove in front of a Matthews shot with half the net open before a final block from Giordano on Toronto’s best player.
The home side pushed with Andersen off for the extra attacker late, but were unable to find a way through as the Leafs’ skid continued despite giving up just two shots in the final period.
“We did a good job securing the win,” Tkachuk said. “But we know we can be a lot better.”
The Flames got on the board 1:19 into the opening period when Tkachuk’s effort from the side boards on the game’s first shot went in off Leafs defenceman Travis Dermott for his eighth, and first in nine games.
“It’s a tough sport to play any time you give up the first shot,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said.
Calgary made it 2-0 at 7:33 when Ryan fired his second on a one-timer from the slot. Toronto cut the deficit in half when Spezza scored his sixth on Markstrom, who allowed all seven Edmonton goals Wednesday, at 12:47 after Morgan Rielly’s initial shot was blocked.
The Flames went back up by two with 1:05 remaining when Tanev’s shot through traffic found its way past Andersen, who allowed three goals on seven shots in the period, for the defenceman’s second.
But the Leafs got that one back shortly thereafter when Kerfoot’s shot off the rush hit a defender’s stick and fooled Markstrom upstairs for his fifth.
“We checked well and we gave up very few odd-man rushes,” Sutter said. “It was not a track-meet game at all. We have a team that can play together.
“If we just eliminated little mistakes in our game and stay out of the penalty box, I think that we can play with them.”
The Flames certainly showed they could even without that Friday.