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This was one pretty good preview for a couple of goaltenders headed to the NHL all-star game a week Saturday.
But after more than 80 combined shots on Thursday, it was David Rittich over Frederik Andersen in a 2-1 shootout for the visiting Calgary Flames against the Maple Leafs. Topping 35 regulation/overtime saves, Rittich denied Jason Spezza, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner in the final tiebreaker. Matthew Tkachuk put the only one past Andersen, whose busiest patch during the game came in the first 2:15 of overtime when the Leafs didn’t touch the puck.
“That’s the way it works out. You get those two going head-to-head and you get a low-scoring affair,” said Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe of the netminders. “We had really good chances that their guy made good on. A few pucks were rolling on us or bouncing over our sticks, but those things will happen.
“That was a big point for us, down in the third period, a big power-play goal (by William Nylander) when we needed it,” he added of holding third place in the division. “I like that within all that tonight, we didn’t lose our defensive structure (halting a four-game leak of at least four goals against).”
Rittich, a replacement for Darcy Kuemper next week at the all-star showcase in St. Louis, won his second game in as many months versus the Leafs and is now 5-0 in shootouts this year. And he faced the full-bore Leafs attack — Marner in a career- high 25:43 of ice time, John Tavares’ second-most minutes at 26:23 and Matthews at 24:11 as part of Toronto’s four power plays and OT shifts. Both he and Andersen are making their first all-star appearances.
“Who would think, four or five years ago I was in the Czech League and never thinking of the NHL,” Rittich said. “Now, I have an opportunity to be with the best players in the world.”
Asked what his best save was, possibly the splits on Matthews off a 2-on-1 late in the game, Rittich quipped: “I don’t know. Ask my groin.
“That’s 5-0 and that’s awesome. You know in the end of the year, five (shootout) points can make a difference.”
The Leafs, racking up at least three goals in 16 of their past 18 games, have now been held to two or less twice by Calgary, going back to the match there in December.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to (Rittich). We were getting Grade A looks,” said Matthews, who has 27 home goals among 34 overall this season and, despite scoring against every team, has still yet to get one on Calgary.
You know it’s a rough night offensively when the Leafs’ vaunted power play was on its way to coming up empty on four chances. But just before the last one expired midway through the third, Tavares spied Nylander with a free stick in the blue paint.
Calgary had taken a 1-0 lead when Derek Ryan got between Rasmus Sandin and Cody Ceci to tip a second-period Travis Hamonic shot past Andersen.
The Leafs had two early injury scares, losing forward Pierre Engvall for most of the first period after a hit and heavy fall to the ice. He came back to start the second period, but Travis Dermott then took a Sean Monahan shot off the instep that needed some time at the bench to be shaken off. Two other D-men, Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin, are already out with similar long-term injuries.
Marner’s eight-game points’ streak ended Thursday and to start the third, he and Matthews had Andreas Johnsson on their left wing as Keefe sought to shake things up and elevate Johnsson’s game as he catches up from a foot injury.
Their regular left winger, Zach Hyman, was moved with Tavares and Nylander.
There were at least three former Leafs captains at the game, club ambassadors Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour and the recently idled Dion Phaneuf, a guest of club president Brendan Shanahan who may be looking at the next stage of his career.
The Leafs have one game remaining — Saturday at home against Chicago — before an eight-day hiatus that takes in the all-star break.
In head-to-head matches involving all Canadian teams before the game, the Winnipeg Jets have the highest points percentage (.750), followed by Montreal (.708), Calgary (.700), Toronto (.611), trailed by Edmonton (.458), Ottawa (.428) and Vancouver (.364).
“Especially with Canadian players, you’re aware of it,” Leafs backup goalie Michael Hutchinson said before the game. “And it’s nice when you get out there and there’s only one anthem. The game gets going quicker.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020