Through six games of misery, there was one man who continued to give the Calgary Flames a chance.
So when the popular netminder’s stickhandling gaffe handed the Flyers a late lead Saturday, the lads appeared extra motivated to help him out. And that they did.
With Rittich pulled for the extra attacker, Elias Lindhom converted a Rasmus Andersson point shot off the back boards that tied the game 2-2 with 1:23 left.
It was a remarkable boost for a slumping Flames bunch that had snapped a four hour and 21 minute scoreless string on the road earlier in the period.
Goals are certainly hard to come by these days for a Calgary club that sits dead last in the NHL in goals per game. But when they needed one most they got one for Rittich, before Matthew Tkachuk played the shootout hero.
A glove save on Sean Couturier by Rittich to wrap up the skills competition gave the Flames a 3-2 win that snapped a six-game losing skid and prompted a spirited, on-ice gathering rife with relief.
It got the Flames within one point of a playoff spot, ending one of the most miserable slides in recent franchise lore.
They weren’t the better team, but they had the better goalie, making their improbable comeback possible.
Full marks to a team that had been outshot 18-3 in the second period, but trailed just 1-0 heading into the third. Despite giving up the first goal for the ninth straight game, the Flames tied it early in the second when Andrew Mangiapane peeked up over a broken nose and protective bubble to fire a shot past Carter Hart, albeit with the help of a deflection of Philippe Myers’ stick.
It set the stage for Rittich being pickpocketed by Joel Farabee behind the net with four minutes left, allowing Kevin Hayes to push it into an empty cage.
Rittich appeared devastated as he hopped onto the bench with 2:30 remaining for the extra attacker, setting up the dramatic equalizer.
Several of Rittich’s 36 saves came in spectacular fashion in overtime, stopping Oskar Lindblom in tight and Hayes on a breakaway to keep the game alive.
Despite being kicked in the side of the head by the back of Michael Raffl’s skate midway through the game, Rittich maintained an excellence that should still give Flames fans hope that a turnaround is possible.
Scoring is still an issue for a team that has just seven goals in their last seven games, but a gutsy win like this certainly breaks some of the tension that has surrounded the team the last week.
Tkachuk’s winner came on a deke to the right of Hart that opened the netminder’s pads long enough for the Flames winger to calmly slide it along the ice and into the net.
It’s now seven games and counting for the Flames since they led a game.
After several days of closed-door meetings with one another and management, the Flames stopped the bleeding.
• A little over a week after collapsing in practice, T.J. Brodie joined the Flames in Philadelphia, where he skated alone Saturday morning. He is expected to play as early as Monday in Pittsburgh.
• Mangiapane was elevated to the second line alongside Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund early in the game, bumping Michael Frolik down the lineup.
• The Flames had been shut out in their previous three road outings, which set a new franchise low.
• Applying a more physical approach than usual, the Flames out-hit the Flyers 24-8. Tkachuk led all players with five hits.
• Sean Couturier led all shooters with nine shots on goal. Noah Hanifin led the Flames with four.
The Flames play their third game in a four-game roadie in Pittsburgh on Monday.