DALLAS – Gassed by one of the longest shifts of his career, Johnny Gaudreau spent the most pivotal moment of the night doubled over, unable to watch.
Still recovering from a shift lasting 2:03 to open overtime, the Flames sniper listened for the crowd reaction as Dallas veteran Alex Radulov attempted a penalty shot with 20.9 seconds left.
Shortly after a pad save turned silence into cheers from his teammates, it was Gaudreau’s chance to end the affair.
With a series of dekes that may keep Vezina finalist Ben Bishop up all night, Gaudreau punctuated the three-man shootout by depositing the puck into an empty net for a dramatic, come-from-behind win.
"Felt great," beamed Gaudreau following a 3-2 win that kicked off the Flames’ daunting three game roadie.
"Obviously I’ve kind of struggled in the past with shootouts and breakaways sometimes, so it’s nice for the confidence to get one there.
"I was going to shoot and saw he went half down, and gave him another fake pump and brought him all the way down, and then corralled it around him to the right side there. It was a good finish and we got the two points there."
After allowing Tyler Seguin to score the opening shootout attempt, David Rittich stopped Radulov (again) and Jamie Benn to set up Gaudreau’s heroics in front of his junior hockey coach, Jim Montgomery, who coaches the Stars.
Gaudreau authored the final blow in a game the Flames were down 2-0 nine seconds into the third period in, but it was Rittich who deserved kudos as the game’s first star. Not just for his clutch stops one on one, but for the 34 saves he made earlier.
"Do you see my record – don’t even look at it," said Rittich when asked if he was generally adept at shootouts.
"I’m glad I got my first win in a shootout. So, don’t look at the record."
Sorry, we had to.
Turns out the 27-year-old was previously winless in four such showdowns, allowing seven goals on 24 shots.
His breakthrough is symbolic of the successful start he’s had so far in a season in which he’s being challenged with proving he’s capable of being a No. 1 goalie in the NHL.
So far so good, posting four solid starts on the heels of three straight pre-season gems.
"It’s the biggest confidence boost you can get as a team," said captain Mark Giordano of his netminder’s poise all night, especially in a second period in which the hosts had the upper hand.
"He’s been dialed in right from camp. It’s carried over from last year. Calm goalie in there. Talks a lot. He’s really having a good start for us. He found a way to keep it tight
“It’s a big win for us in this building."
In fact, it was the Flames’ first win at American Airlines Center since 2016, kicking off a trip that took the team to Vegas after the game – a city in which the Flames have never won.
Saturday’s game in Vegas is followed by a test from another division rival one night later in San Jose.
A much-needed confidence boost for the 2-1-1 Flames.
Both Stars goals game from point-blank shots in the slot Rittich had no chance on. Benn’s snipe had the potential to tilt the game out of reach nine seconds into the third before Elias Lindholm’s power play shot from the point beat Bishop less than three minutes later.
Three minutes after that Matthew Tkachuk threaded a pass to Mikael Backlund through two sticks that prompted the Swedish centre to drop it back to trailing Noah Hanifin, who put it into the empty net.
Overtime started with Gaudreau and Giordano stuck on the ice for the first two minutes, setting up a gritty play by the captain who dug deep in the dying seconds of the game to catch a streaking Radulov to draw the penalty shot.
"Honestly I was pretty tired – I didn’t really want to watch," said Gaudreau, who had five shots and four penalty minutes in a game that saw one of his infractions lead to the Stars’ second goal.
"I had a lot of confidence in (Rittich) – he made a good save there and we got the two points. Big win to start the road trip off. Great comeback. The penalty kill did a great job and Ritter did a great job again. It was a good team effort."