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The Canadian Press

David Rittich makes 34 saves, Flames blank Maple Leafs 3-0 for much-needed win

TORONTO — David Rittich’s celebration at the final buzzer could be heard throughout an empty Scotiabank Arena. After a miserable stretch that culminated with an embarrassing loss to his team’s biggest rival over the weekend, Calgary’s surprise starter knew just how important Monday’s result was for a group seemingly teetering on the brink. Rittich made 34 saves for his first victory of the season, Matthew Tkachuk and Sean Monahan had a goal and an assist each, and the Flames shut out the NHL-leading Toronto Maple Leafs 3-0. “I was just happy,” Rittich said of his delight-filled howl. “Huge win. We needed something like that.” Sam Bennett also scored for Calgary (9-9-1), which came in desperate having dropped four of five in regulation, and had been outscored a combined 14-3 in three consecutive defeats, accented by Saturday’s embarrassing 7-1 throttling by Connor McDavid’s Oilers in Edmonton. “You can’t always control how you lose,” Flames head coach Geoff Ward said. “You can prepare to win again, and your response to something like we saw the other night was important. “We had a good response.” Rittich learned following the morning skate he would get the call in place of No. 1 goalie Jacob Markstrom, who’s day-to-day with an upper-body injury. “David was outstanding,” added Ward, whose team faces the Leafs again on Wednesday. “We’ve seen that from him before.” Rasmus Andersson added two assists as the Flames held the league’s No. 1 power play in check on its seven tries, including a 5-on-3 man advantage for 1:36 in the second period. “Big stage for us,” said Tkachuk, who scored the 100th goal of his NHL career. “We were ready to go from puck drop.” The Flames didn’t want to put too much emphasis on one result, but this one meant more than just any win after getting blown out on national television and having the character of their core players questioned. “It’s always good when you get rewarded for your effort,” Ward said. “The emotion and the smiles and everything else, there is a certain amount of relief.” Michael Hutchinson, who like Rittich was announced as his club’s starter shortly before warmups with Frederik Andersen out with a lower-body injury, stopped 30 shots for Toronto (14-4-2). Goaltending, however, was not the issue for the Leafs as they fell on this night. “It was clear that the other team had a little more urgency,” Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “(I) thought our team played like one that was expecting things to go bad. “This is our 20th game of the season so I think we’ve shown that this is not us.” Auston Matthews, who leads the NHL with 18 goals and was named the league’s first star of the week, saw his 16-game point streak come to an end — two short of the franchise record held by Darryl Sittler and Ed Olczyk. “We didn’t really have a lot of jump to start,” he said. “They definitely came out with a purpose. “We didn’t really have any pushback.” Minus top-6 forwards Joe Thornton and Zach Hyman due to injury, Keefe loaded up Toronto’s first line with struggling captain John Tavares joining Matthews and Mitch Marner, but his team was of sorts from the get-go against an opponent embarking on a crucial stretch in the pandemic-truncated schedule. The Leafs were also without top-4 blue-liner Jake Muzzin, who’s set to miss time with a broken bone in his face. Andersen, meanwhile, is listed as day-to-day. “It’s all I got for you,” Keefe said of his No. 1 netminder, who joined backup Jack Campbell (leg) on the shelf. “I don’t know what’s going to happen from here.” Down 1-0 through 20 minutes, Toronto had three great chances on the penalty kill in the second, but Rittich stopped Ilya Mikheyev on two breakaways and Jason Spezza on a 2-on-1 rush. Calgary eventually struck on the power play after Mikheyev’s second miss when Tkachuk tipped Mark Giordano’s point shot past Hutchinson at 9:28 for his sixth goal of the season. The Leafs, who came to life with a 5-on-3 power play in Saturday’s 5-3 victory in Montreal over the Canadiens, got that long two-man advantage later in the period, but weren’t able to get much through to Rittich. “You get momentum off that,” Monahan said. “Our killers were great.” Inserted into the lineup and onto Toronto’s second line because of the injuries, Alexander Barabanov rattled Rittich’s crossbar early in the third. But Monahan, who returned after two games on the sidelines with a lower-body injury, banged home his third on another Calgary power play at 3:26 to make it 3-0. The Leafs started to wake up after that as Keefe mixed up his lines, but it was too little too late for the home side as Rittich picked up the fourth shutout of his NHL career. “It’s one we needed,” Monahan said. “It’s a shortened season. We know what’s at stake.” Matthews came in off back-to-back four-point performances and had a chance to become the first player in league history to open the scoring in five straight games, but Calgary went up 1-0 at 3:55 of the first when Andersson’s point shot hit the stick of Tavares before leaking through Hutchinson for Bennett to tap over the line for his third. Toronto’s power play got two opportunities in the period, with Morgan Rielly coming closest when his shot struck the crossbar before Rittich closed the door on a scramble. The Flames goaltender had to be sharp again late in the first when he fired out a pad to deny Spezza. “That’s an explosive hockey team down the hall,” Ward said. “Our guys came prepared for the task. “No matter what happened in the game we didn’t lose focus. We just kept plugging.” Notes: Thornton and Hyman are both listed as day-to-day. … Following the rematch in Toronto on Wednesday, the Flames play four in a row against the Ottawa Senators, including three straight in the nation’s capital, starting Thursday. The Leafs open a five-game road trip Saturday in Edmonton with the first of three against Oilers before two more versus the Vancouver Canucks. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2021. ___ Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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