BUFFALO, N.Y. — Flames rookie goalie David Rittich cared little about missing out on his first career shutout bid with 18 seconds left.
The first 25 shots he stopped mattered more — and Calgary snapping a four-game skid to gain ground in a tightly contested Western Conference playoff race with a 5-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night.
“How we get the two points, that’s more important right now,” said Rittich, who bounced back after a six-game stretch during which he went 1-4-1 and allowed 24 goals.
“Yeah, it’s big for me right now,” he added. “I had a couple, I’m not sure if it was bad, but the scores were terrible. Yeah, it’s a nice comeback.”
Rittich’s only blemish was allowing Casey Nelson‘s goal in the closing moments.
Coming off a 4-3 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday, the Flames improved to 1-3-1 in their past five. With 76 points, Calgary jumped into 10th place, a point ahead of idle St. Louis, and within one of Los Angeles and Colorado.
The Flames won at Buffalo for just the second time in 14 trips (2-8-3 and a tie), and first time in regulation since a 3-1 win on March 15, 1996.
The way Calgary dominated a game it outshot Buffalo 41-26 had coach Glen Gulutzan believing the Flames might be heating up just in time to mount a late-season playoff push.
“You need traction,” he said.
“Our team, when they get confident, they can get on a real good run. We’ve done it before,” Gulutzan added. “Every little step is a big step for us.”
The Flames took control in an opening period in which they outshot Buffalo 17-6.
Bennett scored 5:35 in after a Sabres breakdown in front of their own net. Bennett drove to the net to collect a loose puck and snapped it over goalie Chad Johnson, who was flat on his back.
Three minutes later, Bennett set up Jankowski’s goal by driving up the left wing and entering the Sabres zone. He fed a pass into the middle, where Jankowski used Nelson as a screen and snapped a 40-footer that sneaked in under Johnson’s left arm.
Calgary didn’t let up during a three-goal second period.
Giordano and Monahan scored 61 seconds apart to put Calgary up 4-0 with 13:59 left and chase Johnson, who finished with 18 saves.
Hamilton then beat Robin Lehner with a shot inside the right post for a power-play goal with 1:21 left in the period.
Buffalo squandered a chance to win three straight at home for the first time since a 4-0 run in January 2017, and came out inexplicably flat two days after a 5-3 win over Toronto.
“It’s difficult to swallow,” coach Phil Housley said, by saying the Sabres failed to match the Flames intensity.
“We talked about their desperation. You know, they’re saying these are their playoff lives, these next two games on the road,” Housley said. “And I don’t think we respected that.”
Rittich was hardly tested, though his best save came three minutes into second period, when he got his left shoulder up to stop Jason Pominville’s one-timer form the left circle during a Sabres power play.
NOTES: The Sabres called up C Danny O’Regan from AHL Rochester to fill in after Kyle Criscuolo sustained upper-body injury in a 5-3 win against Toronto on Monday. O’Regan was acquired in the trade that sent Evander Kane to San Jose last week. … Flames LW Johnny Gaudreau had two assists in playing his 300th career game. … Gaudreau’s 56 assists this season are the most by a Flames player since Alex Tanguay had 59 in 2006-07. … The Flames once went 0-11 and a tie in 12 straight trips to Buffalo from March 11, 1979, when they were still in Atlanta, to Nov. 10, 1985.
Flames: Close three-game road trip at Ottawa Senators on Friday.
Sabres: At Ottawa on Thursday.