Flames add much-needed levity to their fight in win over Senators

Elias Lindholm had a pair of goals for the Flames as they beat the Senators 3-1.

CALGARY – It has never been much of a surprise when a Tkachuk hurtles himself towards the net and inevitably falls into – or onto – the netminder.

Matthew’s been doing it for years, as did his dad, Keith. The family turned it into an art form.

So when Brady Tkachuk somehow caught the leg of Oliver Kylington while skating full speed towards the Calgary Flames net and violently tumbled into David Rittich late Saturday, no one flinched.

Except Rittich.

The Flames netminder doesn’t share the same admiration for the move that the rest of the hockey world might. So after Brady lay entangled in the back of the net following a significant collision with the feisty goaltender, Rittich responded as you’d expect.

With punches.

“I gave him three quick gloves,” smiled Rittich, the game’s first star in a room full of much-needed levity following a 3-1 win over the Ottawa Senators. “He should be happy it wasn’t blocker. I’m honestly not really caring (about) what he was saying – he fell on me and I’m not going to leave it like that. I told him to ‘get out of here.’”

In the hallway outside the Flames room minutes later, Brady stood talking to his big brother and fans when Rittich walked by.

“Speak of the devil,” smiled Brady as he spoke of the incident, before the two acquaintances exchanged a few playful jabs while passing by.

Despite having spent some time getting to know his brother’s goalie last season and through the playoffs, Brady is certainly not one to shy away from crease crashing and the repercussions of it.

“I was trying to draw a penalty,” he smiled.

Matthew had a front-row seat for the on-ice exchange and chose not to get involved.

“I just wanted to get out of there – I was gassed,” said Matthew. “I’m definitely staying away from Brady – he’s a big boy now. I don’t know where he learned that one from. It’s what happens when you go to the net a lot and me and him seem to be at the net a lot.”

Indeed they do.

As the calendar turns toward the holiday season, Matthew, Rittich and the Flames are far better positioned to share some of the joys surrounding them.

The mood has definitely turned.

A horrific start to the season punctuated by an emotional week of turmoil involving coach Bill Peters has somehow led to a quiet turnaround.

Despite playing nowhere near the level they played last year, the team has buckled down mentally to claim seven of their last eight possible points. They’ve done it by reducing turnovers, focusing more on defence and with a crackerjack goaltender whose brilliance has been the one constant this season.

On a night in which it appeared for the longest time like the highlight for Dome-dwellers would be the shocking resurrection of the Wave, the Flames managed to reward themselves and Geoff Ward with a win in his first home game behind the bench as interim coach.

He was also there three nights earlier in Buffalo when the Flames won in overtime despite the Peters investigation hanging over the organization and league.

With Peters’ resignation Friday providing a sense of relief for the team and its followers, the lads bolstered their record to 13-12-4, which has them tied with Vegas for the final wild-card spot.

“With Wardo we play so hard for him, with all the stuff he’s had to go through,” said Dillon Dube, who opened the scoring late in the first period with his second of the year.

“He got thrown into the situation and it’s his first head coaching job in the NHL. And the guys really want keep turning this around with him.”

With five minutes left in the third period, Jean-Gabriel Pageau tied the game before Elias Lindholm chased down a Sean Monahan dump-in over the head of Ron Hainsey that was scooped up by the Swedish winger and roofed with a late cut in front of the net.

He added an insurance marker into an empty net.

It was the second game in a row he was the hero, which was a role many expected might go to Milan Lucic most of the night.

“I don’t know how you can get any closer,” said Lucic of several Grade A chances he was unable to convert for his first goal as a Flame.

“It’s easy to get frustrated. It’s easy to get down. It’s easy to smash sticks and all that type of stuff. I went through that and that didn’t work. So, just trying to do anything I can to score a goal here. I know the fans would love to see it. I appreciate them ‘Loooo-ing’ me out there and all that type of stuff. Not only would I like to get one for my teammates and myself, but for them as well.”

And for the man they call Wardo.

“We’re just trying to rally around him,” said Lucic, who won a Stanley Cup with Ward in Boston.

“I know he’s going to do a great job and it’s up to us players to buy in. I think he’s been an assistant under some really good head coaches and he’s learned a lot from them. Bill (Peters), Claude (Julien) and (John) Hynes. He can probably take a little bit of all of them. He’s been through it all as an assistant coach. I’m excited to be here with him to see what he can do with this opportunity.”

The Flames now have five days until their next home game, prompting Ward to give them the next two days off – a popular move for a squad that has been through a lot.

“For us it has been a tough month for travel and with everything that happened, all in all, we’ll take it,” said Ward. “We can be happy with the progress we’re making but we can’t be satisfied with it. There are a lot of areas we’ve got to improve to get to where we ultimately want to be.”

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