PHILADELPHIA — Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk unloaded a wicked wrist-shot, evening the score with just over four minutes remaining in regulation and ultimately forcing overtime.
At the opposite end of the rink, his puck-stopping pal David Rittich unleashed a fist-pump.
This is what friends are for.
You couldn’t have scripted a much more appropriate ending in the City of Brotherly Love — Tkachuk erased the damage done by Rittich’s oopsie and then assisted on the game-winner, too, as the Flames escaped with a 3-2 overtime triumph in Saturday’s afternooner against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center.
Asked if he had any post-game words for Tkachuk, Rittich smiled: “Maybe ‘Thanks bro, I love you,’ or something like that.”
If not for Tkachuk’s heroics, including a sweet feed to TJ Brodie to end the overtime session on a two-on-one rush, Rittich might have been groaning instead of grinning.
The 26-year-old masked man was otherwise sharp in his return from a brief injury absence, but he nearly spoiled it when he gift-wrapped the go-ahead goal on a giveaway early in the third.
Wandering out of his crease to retrieve a puck in the right circle, Rittich was trying to hit Garnet Hathaway with a long breakout pass but instead found the tape of opposing centre Travis Konecny. As the Flames’ starter scrambled back into position, Konecny fired five-hole to boost the Flyers to a 2-1 lead.
Rittich’s buddies weren’t going to let Saturday’s story end that way.
“He’s bailed us out all year,” Tkachuk said. “I mean, I don’t even think we really bailed him out today. He played solid. He’ll tell you he’d probably want that second one back, but that was a great play by their guy. But he’s been great for us all year, so the least we could do is try to help him out one time.
“Even after that goal happens, he made some huge saves,” Tkachuk continued. “Right after that, you could have blinked and it could have been 4-1. But he held the fort and was strong. So it was a big response from him, as well.”
Thanks to their comeback against the Flyers, the Pacific Division-leading Flames improved to 26-13-4 on the season and 2-1 and on this four-game sojourn.
They haven’t suffered back-to-back regulation losses since Nov. 11-15.
Saturday’s win wasn’t pretty — a snoozer of an opening period, a lot of incomplete passes, etc. — but they can’t all be beauties.
“That’s a greasy road win is what it is,” said Flames head coach Bill Peters. “It was definitely a grind. I thought the guys did a good job, though, on the bench, staying with it and finding a way. Real good play on the game-tying goal — a great pass by Benny (Sam Bennett), putting it right in the wheelhouse for Chucky. That was outstanding.
“And then another quality pass on the game-winner. Brods has been playing real well here recently, and it’s good to see him get rewarded.”
All-star winger Johnny Gaudreau, raised not far from Philly in Carneys Point, N.J., provided Saturday’s other snipe for the Flames, while defenceman Noah Hanifin contributed a couple of assists.
Rittich, who missed the past two contests due to a lower-body injury, delivered 32 saves.
He was beaten only on a bad bounce — Brodie hit the deck to try to clog the lane on a two-on-one, but Travis Sanheim’s attempted pass glanced off the toe of his skate and re-routed just under the cross-bar, a top-shelf boot that Lionel Messi would have been impressed with — and then the brain-fart.
That turnover could have been the turning point.
His teammates had other ideas.
“I was pretty happy about that (Tkackuk) goal because I made a mistake that almost cost the game for us,” Rittich said of the late equalizer. “After that goal, I felt like we can make win.”
They did exactly that.
Rittich, who has clearly emerged as the go-to goalie for the Flames, improves to 14-4-3 with a 2.31 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.
“Ritter has been unbelievable for us all year,” Hanifin said. “He’s saved us quite a few times throughout this season, so we definitely owe him.”
The Flames with wrap this road-trip with Monday’s meeting against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center (6:30 p.m. MT, Sportsnet West/Sportsnet 960 The Fan).
Bill Peters will be the man behind the bench for Team Pacific at the 2019 NHL All-Star Game, but the Flames head coach stressed that his invite — made official Saturday — is something a whole lot of people should be proud of.
Peters earned the nod by leading his crew to the top points percentage in the division prior to midway point on the league-wide calendar.
“It’s an organizational achievement, right? There’s no doubt,” Peters said after the Flames’ overtime win at Wells Fargo Center. “It’s on the backs of the players. The players are the guys that are out there grinding, working hard, blocking shots, doing what they do in order for us to get two points each and every night. That’s what we strive for. Now, we’re not going to go 82-0, we know that, but our team is a competitive group, they like playing the game the right way and they like playing with each other, so we’ve got a chance.
“And my staff has done a great job. I really enjoy our coaching staff. I think our medical staff and our equipment staff are second-to-none. When you have enough quality people doing it right, then good things happen.”
Hired this summer after a four-season stint with the Carolina Hurricanes, Peters is just the second coach in Flames history to earn an all-star assignment.
Terry Crisp had that honour in 1990 after helping to raise a Stanley Cup banner the previous spring.
With Peters serving as skipper for the Pacific Division, the Flames will have at least two reps in San Jose for the Jan. 25-26 shindig.
Superstar left-winger Johnny Gaudreau scored a selection to the NHL All-Star Game for a fifth straight season, while captain Mark Giordano is a candidate for the ‘Last Man In’ fan vote.
Peters, with roots in Three Hills, Killam, Red Deer and other Alberta communities, is no doubt deserving of this all-expenses-paid trip.
Under their new boss, the Flames are lighting the lamp more often and also allowing fewer high-danger scoring chances. They collected 54 standings points in the first half, the second-best total in franchise history.
One of Peters’ greatest strengths seems to be a knack for identifying the right candidates — and right timing — for in-game line adjustments, something that has factored in a league-leading seven victories when trailing after two periods.
Paul Maurice of the Winnipeg Jets (Central), Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning (Atlantic) and Todd Reirden of the Washington Capitals (Metropolitan) will also be running their respective benches at the 2019 NHL All-Star Game in San Jose.
“It means I get to represent our players and our organization,” Peters said. “It’s an honour. It will be a lot of fun. Haven’t talked to too many people about it yet, but hopefully I’m able to take some family there and enjoy it. It will be a great experience.”
AROUND THE BOARDS
Brodie’s overtime winner against the Flyers came at the end of a 65-second shift. You couldn’t tell as he hustled up the ice on a two-on-one with Tkachuk. “We call him Iron Lungs,” Hanifin said. “It seemed like he was out there for about two minutes, but got up the ice and finished it off for us.” Across the room, Brodie insisted he was still feeling pretty fresh when Tkachuk started to lug the puck up the ice. “I just sort of looked around for a second and realized that everyone was behind me and I could jump up,” he said after his first game-winner of the campaign. “And it worked out” … After scoring Saturday in what is basically his backyard, Gaudreau now has 11 points during a four-game span. Bonkers … This is, the 25-year-old Gaudreau summed up, “perfect timing.” The Flames will enjoy a day-off Sunday in Chicago, and Gaudreau’s favourite football team — the reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles — happen to be there, too, for a first-round playoff clash against the Bears. Johnny Hockey and a handful of teammates will be in attendance at Soldier Field, as long as the other guys did their shopping. “They’re going to go out and buy some Eagles gear — Eagles jerseys — and they’ll cheer on the Eagles,” Gaudreau insisted … With Rittich back in action and showing no ill-effects of that lower-body injury, third-stringer Jon Gillies will soon be returned to the American Hockey League’s Stockton Heat.
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