CALGARY – Proper river hockey etiquette suggests the game’s outcome should ultimately be determined with the ol’ “next goal wins.”
Yet, as wide open as Wednesday’s shinny affair at the Dome was, it shouldn’t even have come to that as the home side trailed by two with 68 seconds left.
Even though the Flames led the league with 45 third-period goals and a goal differential of plus-24 in that final frame, it didn’t seem like the momentum of three straight home wins would carry the day.
Four straight power plays in the third saw Flyers goalie Anthony Stolarz threaten a script that had seen the Flames turn a league-leading six third-period comebacks into a seventh.
Rasmus Andersson’s first NHL goal prompted the Saddledome to explode in celebration with just over a minute to go before Sean Monahan’s second of the night threatened the building’s stability with seven seconds remaining.
Cue the playoff-like atmosphere and celebration sure to engulf this town four months from now.
“That was the loudest building I think I’ve ever been in with seven seconds left,” said Matthew Tkachuk after a dramatic evening in which he accumulated four assists.
“It was insane. I think the whole bench was with the fans, standing up and clapping and cheering too. It was a great time.”
The last five weeks have been a great time for this Flames club, which is on a 7-0-1 run at home and a 15-5-2 record since losing 9-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They’ve done it with the league’s second-ranked offence and a flair for the spectacular, which ensures this team is never out of games.
“It’s a good sign, but you don’t want to have a game like that where you are chasing like that,” said Monahan, whose sixth straight 20-goal season came in a remarkable 32 games this time.
“You stick with it and it pays off. That’s why you play hockey – it’s fun. It gets loud. That’s a win and you want to keep rolling with it.”
For a time it appeared Mike Smith would be the big story coming out of the game. Despite being extremely solid in the first period, he was victimized by four Flyers goals in five shots in the second period, including a weak one from far out that caught him leaning the wrong way, anticipating a pass instead of a shot.
Flames fans, who unfairly gave him the Bronx cheer on a later dump-in he stopped, might not have Smith to criticize this week as he left the game with an ailment after two periods.
“I got news late (in the intermission) he wasn’t right – really late,” said Peters, who insisted he wasn’t aware if it was sickness or an injury that ended the veteran’s night.
“It was just before we went on the ice so I was told Ritter was going in. Smith wasn’t feeling right – he tried to play through it, but couldn’t.”
Andersson ran into Smith awkwardly midway through the game, but the goalie didn’t appear to get up gingerly. Either way, with the Flames set to visit the Children’s Hospital on their day off Thursday news of whether Smith or a call-up will be Rittich’s backup won’t likely be revealed until Friday.
It’s the one position the Flames aren’t deep in, as Jon Gillies is 5-8-1 with a 3.96 goals-against average with Stockton and Nick Schneider is 6-2, 2.66.
“(The Rittich save in overtime) is absolutely huge – the game could have ended there,” said Peters. “He made a big save and we go the other way and get three kicks at it.
“I don’t think I’ve been part of something like that – not that I remember. Exciting game. Good for the fans. They were great.
“There’s a lot of belief and it is a resilient group.”
Sam Bennett opened the scoring, Mark Giordano had a goal and two assists to move into second in scoring amongst NHL defencemen and Gaudreau’s game-winner was accompanied by two helpers.
A lot for fans to wrap their head around in a city where hockey success has been scarce since 1989.
Like most fans, Rittich still couldn’t believe the series of events that rocked Calgary once again, courtesy of the Western Conference’s top team.
“I found out, like, three minutes before the period starts so I was pretty busy there,” said Rittich of the third-period assignment with his team down 4-3.
“Down 5-3 with one and a half minutes to the end it didn’t look like we can win, but we show how great a group of people we are and how we can play.”