Calgary needed a big goal and Johnny Gaudreau delivered. Twice, in fact.
Gaudreau’s first two-goal game of the season was part of three goals in the opening three minutes of the third period as the Flames extended their win streak to seven games with a 4-2 came-from-behind victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"We knew we needed to have a strong push to start the third and we found a way to score three quick ones and play well with the lead," said Gaudreau, who has nine goals on the season.
The 26-year-old left winger tied it 2-2 after just 19 seconds into the third, whipping a wrist shot past Frederik Andersen after being set up by Mikael Backlund.
After Michael Frolik’s third goal in as many games at 1:59 gave the Flames the lead, it was Gaudreau again — deflecting Travis Hamonic’s point shot through Andersen’s legs at 2:49. The three goals came on three consecutive shots.
"Giving up one as quick as we did, it just seemed we got down on ourselves," said Leafs captain John Tavares. "We just didn’t have a good response after that and didn’t execute very well and gave them too much space in the middle of the ice that let them capitalize on those next couple chances."
Gaudreau, who scored 36 times a year ago, has four goals in his last five games after scoring just five times in the season’s first 29 games.
Although goaltender David Rittich, who had 32 stops, scoffed at the question when asked if he thought Gaudreau was back.
"He still can’t score on me, so I don’t know, is he back?"
The good-natured jab epitomizes the upbeat mood around the Flames these days under interim coach Geoff Ward, who is a perfect 7-0-0 since taking over for Bill Peters.
"I’m most proud of how the guys have come together," said Ward, 57, who had never been a head coach in the NHL until now. "They stick up for each other, they play for one another, and we’re really starting to see a nice synergy in our team, and right now I’m happy for the guys."
Co-starring in the victory was the penalty killing trio of Mikael Backlund and defencemen Mark Giordano and Michael Stone, who played the entire 1:36 two-man advantage the Leafs squandered in the third, which came right after they had fallen behind.
"It’s the reason we won the game. It’s a minute-and-a-half 5-on-3 with five really skilled players out there. For our PK to kill it off, a great job on their part," Gaudreau said.
Rittich stood tall on that penalty kill as well, twice stopping Tavares on dangerous chances. Auston Matthews also put a shot off the goal post.
"They did an amazing job. Blocked shots, and fighting for the seams to block it with their sticks," Rittich said. "Small things can make a big difference and we were better in those small things."
Hamonic also scored for Calgary (18-12-4). Sean Monahan had a pair of assists to extend his point-streak to eight games (5 goals, 5 assists).
The red-hot Flames move into a tie with the Edmonton Oilers for second in the Pacific Division, just two points back of the Arizona Coyotes.
Mitch Marner and Tavares also had a goal and an assist for Toronto (15-14-4). The Leafs fall to 2-1-0 on their four-game road trip, which concludes Saturday night in Edmonton.
"It’s disappointing tonight but we’ve got a big one Saturday. We have to make sure we come ready to play," said Marner, who has six points (1 goal, 5 assists) in his last three games.
Rittich improves to 15-7-4. Andersen, who made 20 saves, falls to 15-8-3.
"Today was just a few mistakes, from myself included, I wasn’t sharp enough to get the win," Andersen said. "I wouldn’t panic about it. We’ve just got to kind of move on and get back on track."
Tied 1-1, Marner’s fifth goal of the season at 14:06 of the second gave the Leafs the lead. The right winger completed a slick give-and-go with Tavares, by ripping a shot into the top corner.
Notes: Flames LW Sam Bennett (upper body) missed his 12th game, but he’s back skating with the club now… The Leafs lost in regulation for the first time (11-1-2) when leading after two periods. Meanwhile, the Flames improved to 5-11-2 in games in which they’re trailing after two periods.